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NZ film case study - Out of the Blue

A true New Zealand story

The classification of this true New Zealand story was a careful and consultative process.

Out of the Blue, directed by Robert Sarkies, is a film about the massacre of 13 people by gun collector David Gray, in the small Otago township of Aramoana on 13 and 14 November 1990.

The film was first released at the Toronto Film Festival in August 2006. The New Zealand news media covered the premiere and the favourable response to the film. About this time, members of the Aramoana community contacted the Office of Film and Literature Classification and expressed their reservations about the film.

The film was submitted on 35mm film reels to the Office of Film and Literature Classification on 11 September 2006.

The plot

The film is about a tragic event in New Zealand's history.

Out of the Blue is an understated re-telling of the massacre of 13 people in the remote Otago township of Aramoana on 13 and 14 November 1990. Residents of the small coastal settlement are shown going about their daily lives while paranoid gun enthusiast David Gray, who has become estranged from the rest of the community, grows increasingly agitated. Gray begins his rampage by shooting an old friend and three young girls.

For the next 22 hours Gray terrorises his fellow residents while local police struggle to control the situation, and their own emotions. Music and scenic footage is used to contrast the normally tranquil atmosphere of Aramoana with the shocking events that unfold.

The Classification Office

The Classification Office noted that this film was likely to have a strong impact on New Zealand audiences.

The depiction of real life events in the film required special consideration by the Classification Office. In the classification decision it noted that:

Many adult New Zealanders are likely to remember the actual event, which is likely to affect the impact the film has on them. Those who were closely involved in the tragedy at Aramoana are likely to find the film upsetting and potentially traumatic.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2006

Director's concerns

After the film had been submitted to the Office, the director of the film, Robert Sarkies, said that he was worried that his film would be given a higher classification because it was a New Zealand movie.

But there is no separate basis for classifying New Zealand-made films. The Classification Office is required to classify all films according to the criteria in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

Consultations

Two consultations were held as part of the classification process.

The Classification Office held two consultations on Out of the Blue with people involved in the tragedy at Aramoana. Nine people, either related to the victims or who had themselves been injured, attended the first meeting. The second consultation was attended by twenty-one members of the Aramoana community. Participants said that they appreciated the opportunity to express their opinions and responses to the film. The results of the consultation are presented in a document called a 'Record of Assistance'.

Record of Assistance for the classification of Out of the Blue (PDF, 630KB)

People had different opinions on what classification the film should have.

The classification decision discusses possible restrictions raised by those consulted. It notes that while some people may have been more comfortable with the film restricted to theatrical release, another person said that they would be emotionally unable to view the film in a cinema. The classification decision notes that the film has merit in the way that it deals with a highly emotional and relatively recent event. It states that "The film is likely to present violence to teenagers in a new light. Rather than the sanitised and glorified violence often depicted in popular mainstream productions, Out of the Blue presents violence in a realistic manner".

One of the main objections of the people (of Aramoana) was that... they had been thrust into the public spotlight by this event. Every time an anniversary comes around or a film is made it happens all over again.

Former Chief Censor Bill Hastings, New Zealand Herald 29/9/2006

Media coverage

There were several media articles published about the Classification Office's consultations with the Aramoana community. At the time, the film's director Robert Sarkies said that he thought that the consultations were "PC gone mad". But Chief Censor Bill Hastings said that when classifying the film the Office had to consider whether it dealt with matters that may be injurious to the public good. "The families of the victims obviously are part of the public of New Zealand" he said.

The Chief Censor's decision to consult locals on the classification of Out of the Blue is "PC gone mad. I think it's ridiculous to canvass them about the film, simply because they have already seen it".

Robert Sarkies, Director of Out of the Blue, New Zealand Herald 23/9/2006

The families of the victims obviously are part of the public of New Zealand. But equally we have to balance that against the right of the film-maker to make the film...and the fact that other people want to see something about what was a public event.

Former Chief Censor Bill Hastings, New Zealand Herald 23/9/2006

Classification Office decision

The film was classified R15.

Out of the Blue was classified as restricted to persons aged 15 years and over with the descriptive note 'contains violence and content that may disturb'. The film's director Robert Sarkies actually agreed with the R15 classification. He said that "an R15 restriction allows the film in the future to be seen in senior high school classes. Fifteen year olds are old enough to comprehend the film".

The classification decision said:

The film is likely to present violence to teenagers in a new light. Rather than the sanitised and glorified violence often depicted in popular mainstream productions, Out of the Blue presents violence in a realistic manner. The random, unspectacular nature of violence is captured, as are the devastating repercussions it has for good, honest, real people.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2006

Classification Office decision for Out of the Blue (PDF, 92KB)

Other film case studies

Out of the Blue poster

With his carefully controlled pacing and superb use of sound, Sarkies draws the viewer deep into the experience of a town caught completely off-guard by a kind of violence they could never have expected, and won't soon forget.

Ken Fox, TV Guide

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of frightened people near a police car
A scene from Out of the Blue
A still image from the film of Julie-Anne Bryson looking worriedly out of the window
Tandi Wright as Julie-Anne Bryson
A still image from the film of armed police preparing to enter a building
Paul Knox, left, and Karl Urban as local police preparing to enter Gray's home

Classification

R15 classification label
R15: contains violence and content that may disturb