This page explains results from a recent Censor for a Day event and goes through the criteria used by students to classify the film.
The Term 1, 2016 Censor for a Day event was held at Event Cinemas Lower Hutt and Tauranga, and Hoyts Te Awa Hamilton. Around 270 students and 15 teachers from 14 schools attended.
Censor for a Day has three key purposes:
High school students form a significant group in terms of cinematic film, online film and DVD/Blu-ray audiences, and are directly affected by age-restricted film classifications in a way that adults are not.
Students were given a presentation about New Zealand's censorship system by Acting Information Unit Manager Michelle Baker, including an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. They also learned about the process followed by Classification Officers ('censors') when classifying films, video games, and other publications.
Students were asked to evaluate the film Orphans & Kingdoms using the classification criteria. The film had been classified but not yet released in New Zealand.
After watching the film, the students completed a classification form with guidance from an Information Unit Advisor and decided on an appropriate classification. Michelle then led a discussion about how they applied the classification criteria to the film, and the reasons behind their individual classification choices. There was also opportunity for students to ask the Chief Censor and other Classification Office staff questions about the New Zealand classification system.
In order to ensure that the Classification Office performs its role effectively, it is important to be aware of the public's views on our classification decisions, and on the classification system as a whole. Censor for a Day is not only about teaching young people about the classification system. It's about hearing their views on the role of censorship in our society, especially as it relates to children and young people as they are generally the groups most affected by the decisions we make. As always, the views of participating students were thoughtful, constructive, and sometimes challenging. We are grateful for the chance to hear them.
Orphans & Kingdoms is classified RP16 in New Zealand with the descriptive note 'violence, offensive language, nudity, drug use and suicide'. The film is set on Auckland's Waiheke Island over the course of one night – it follows three Maori siblings on the run (Kanae, Jesse and Tibs) as they break into the empty home of a wealthy architect called Jeremy. When Jeremy turns up unexpectedly, he is knocked unconscious and Jesse is injured. Over the course of the night Jeremy and the siblings form an unlikely bond.
Thanks to writer-director Paolo Rotondo's intelligent, compassionate take on the cliche, Orphans & Kingdoms addresses a topic that is a very current concern on New Zealand's political and social landscape, but is all too often brushed under the Statistics Carpet.Sarah Watt, Sunday Star Times
Please note that this report contains spoilers for people who have not seen the film!
Due to the extent, degree and manner in which Orphans & Kingdoms deals with violence, crime, suicide and offensive language, almost all students (96%) thought the film should have an age restriction. These ranged from RP13 (restricted to people 13 years and over unless accompanied by a parent or guardian) to R16 (restricted to people 16 years and over).
When classifying a film for Censor for a Day there is usually quite broad agreement amongst students about an appropriate specific classification. Opinion about Orphans & Kingdoms was unusually varied – with the largest number of students choosing the uncommon RP16 classification (26%), followed closely by R13 (22%). Overall, a majority (56%) close a full restriction of some kind (R13, R15 or R16) and 40% chose the partial parental accompaniment restrictions (RP13 and RP16). The variety of classifications speaks to the delicacy in which a wide variety of classifiable content was dealt with in the film, and its considerable artistic merit (which students had to consider as part of the classification criteria).
Students filled out the classification form, a pared down version of a 21-page consideration sheet that Classification Officers use when classifying a film.
The exercise involved students answering questions that relate to specific sections in the Classification Act. When deciding on a classification, students had to consider the potential for the film to be harmful to young people, while also considering New Zealanders' right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, 1990, "including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind".
The students were asked to decide on a suitable classification and descriptive note in order to prevent any likelihood of injury to the public good from the availability of the film, while balancing the right to freedom of expression provided by the Bill of Rights Act.
Seventeen percent of students classified the film R16. Students who chose R16 did so for a variety of reasons. The most common harms identified related to drug use and other criminal behaviour, offensive language, violence, cruelty, and suicide:
Because the film addresses many mature and adult concepts that a younger audience wouldn't be able to fully understand. Especially a younger audience being impacted by the crime, violence, sexual content, offensive language and drug use (and alcohol/smoking) in a negative way, it would be better to be shown to a more mature audience, who would be able to handle the content in the film as it is injurious and harmful. The suicide in the film could be a trigger to a younger viewer, it could raise questions that they wouldn't have thought about before.Student from Tauranga
It deals with heavy issues that people under the age of 16 wouldn't cope with. Younger people may be influenced by the shoplifting and violence. The theme of suicide can be a trigger for people with mental illness. It is also very sensitive and hard to deal with the topic.Student from Wellington
Because it could cause harm to younger viewers as they see kids their age like the little boy in the film being capable of crime and violence and they could emulate his actions.Student from Hamilton
The R15 classification was chosen by 17% of students. A number of students indicated that the film's artistic, social and educational merit warranted a lower classification so more people could see the film; others decided on R15 to maximise people's freedom to view content (under the Bill of Rights Act) while still protecting young people from harm:
Because there are no real consequences shown from stealing, children smoking, stealing, breaking and entering, physical abuse, hiding from the police and so on. Anyone younger than 15 might copy these acts because they might think they can get away with it.Student from Wellington
I gave this film an R15 because I believe anyone younger than this age could be quite affected by the mature content involved – regardless of them seeing it with a parent/adult. It has some very strong psychological themes.Student from Tauranga
This age group would benefit from knowing and seeing things like neglect and depressions and suicide – although it is a sensitive subject it needs to be addressed in this day and age as they are serious issues in society.Student from Hamilton
At 15, many kids have been exposed to suicide, drug use, poverty etc, and would be able to have a more mature understanding of the film's message. They can identify right and wrong.Student from Hamilton
R13 was chosen by 22% of students. Those classifying the film R13 were also concerned with drug use and other criminal behaviour, offensive language, violence, cruelty, and suicide, but felt that younger teenagers would not be harmed by this material:
Because the film could have an impact on vulnerable individuals under the age of 13, particularly in relation to suicide/self-harm. The film could be seen as an encouragement to younger individuals who are in a negative mental state.Student from Hamilton
Because it depicts actions like sex, violence, suicide and crime being performed by children. Viewers under age 13 could be impacted by seeing people their age doing these things and it could influence their views about crime in particular.Student from Tauranga
Anyone over 13 could understand the themes in the film at least to some extent. There was nudity but it was not sexualised at all and there was a very small amount of offensive language.Student from Wellington
The movie does contain strong mature themes throughout and violence that could upset or frighten people under 13. The rating is lower because of the important moral message about dealing with suicide and crime.Student from Wellington
Could cause psychological harm to people who may not be able to understand the main themes of the film. Suicide, crime and violence, to younger viewers, could be interpreted as a viable option for them feeling angry or sad about their life.Student from Wellington
RP16 was chosen by 26% of students. Students acknowledged that some content in the film could be harmful to children and younger teens but that having a parent or guardian present would allow for discussion and help put the content of the film in context. Some felt this partial restriction was warranted because of the film's artistic merit, and others mentioned that it would be a useful film to study in a classroom:
The film has educational values, such as how suicide can impact the lives of others (not displaying it in a positive way). It teaches us many things that teenagers can relate to in today’s society. I classified it RP16 because I believe anyone under the age of 16 could watch the film as long as they had someone else there watching to help understand the film in context.Students from Tauranga
Suicide is a prominent issue in New Zealand amongst teenagers. This film could and likely would make people more aware of the damage their actions could cause. Because of the merit of the film I think that as long as the individual can discuss the themes with an adult it would be helpful. Without an adult to talk to, younger people may be too upset or not understand or misinterpret suicide in the film.Student from Wellington
This film held subjects like suicide, depression and loneliness/belonging. Aside from the nudity, violence and language the film’s deeper themes could be harmful to younger viewers if not seen with a mature adult that could interpret themes. Younger viewers that can't understand the themes may have idea like suicide/depression lingering on their minds.Students from Tauranga
I think it would be good for New Zealand schools to show to mature English classes, as it is relatable content for people growing up in New Zealand, particularly teens, and it makes them more aware of social issues. A teacher can then discuss anything with students that may potentially be harmful, eg crime and suicide.Student from Hamilton
Although there was sex, crime, violence, self-harm/suicide, offensive language and risky conduct, the extent and degree to which these are depicted would not cause injury to the general public if explained by an adult or caregiver. The ideas in the film hold merit and could be discussed in a classroom setting.Students from Tauranga
RP13 was chosen by 14% of students. As with RP16, students acknowledged that the potential harm of the content in the film could be mitigated by accompaniment by a parent or guardian. Those choosing RP13 did not think the film would be harmful to younger teens, regardless of whether a parent or guardian was present.
I think the film gives an important message that is of value to society. However, if misunderstood, the depictions of cruelty, crime, self-harm/suicide, and smoking could have a harmful impact. Thus, those under 13 should have guidance while watching.Students from Hamilton
Although the film deals with issues in a good way younger audiences may imitate behaviour like stealing, breaking and entering, trusting strangers, using sex to get what you want, running away, etc. If unsupervised, younger audiences may not understand the negative consequences.Student from Wellington
Because of drug use, criminal activity, sexual content, offensive language and suicide/self-harm, this film should be given a hard restriction. However, teenagers should be allowed to view this film under certain circumstances as it deals heavily with the theme of suicide, running away and the consequences and effects of these subjects that heavily impact this demographic, perhaps more than any other.Student from Tauranga
The 4% of students who opted for the unrestricted M classification considered the content to be relatively low impact and suggested that the film was unlikely to cause harm if made available to children. A number of students emphasised the film's merit, and noted that it was unlikely to appeal to children even if unrestricted:
Potentially harmful content is portrayed as commentary and is at a low-moderate level. The message of the film itself provides enough merit as far as social commentary and critical analysis of society to be considered valuable study material.Student from Hamilton
There is a lot of swearing however it doesn't encourage this and it also portrays stealing and assault etc in a negative light as well as having a positive and partially educational message.Student from Wellington
The film does show some forms of harm that may affect the audience, however these scenes are only briefly shown in the film and are also not of a high impact. It is recommended for mature audiences but does not need to be restricted.Student from Tauranga
Male students were more likely to choose the R15 and R16 classifications, and females were more likely to choose RP13 and RP16.
More female students (55%) attended the events than males (43%). Some students identified as a gender other than male or female, and some did not specify a gender.
The majority of participants (79%) were 17 years old, 15% were aged 16, and 5% were aged 18. 16 year olds were more likely to assign an ‘RP’ classification (50%), than 17 or 18 year olds (both 38%).
Students were asked if the film contained potentially restricted material such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, or highly offensive language. The students were also asked to describe how this material is depicted or otherwise dealt with in the film.
Almost all students agreed that Orphans & Kingdoms contained violence, crime, self-harm/suicide and offensive language, and a majority thought the film contained cruelty (64%), sex (63%), and conduct that would be dangerous if imitated by a child or young person (68%). A minority of students though the film contained degrading, demeaning or dehumanising physical conduct (22%).
The Classification Office restricted the film to people 16 years and over unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The restriction was primarily due to the film's treatment of violence, cruelty, criminal acts, and suicide. Most students agreed that these criteria were present in the film. In the summary of reasons for its classification decision the Classification Office said that:
Youth suicide in particular is a difficult and complex issue, and the publication’s treatment of it requires a measure of maturity to fully apprehend. Any increase in the risks of suicide by vulnerable younger viewers, or greatly shocking and disturbing of younger viewers who have been affected by suicide, is likely to be sufficiently alleviated by a conversation with an older parent or guardian, who will be able to contextualise the issues at hand.
Similarly many of the other injuries to the public good related to violence, cruelty, criminal acts, and the sexual material, are likely to be sufficiently alleviated through contextualisation, and understanding of the complex themes the film deals with. Children and younger teenagers do not necessarily possess the intellectual and emotional maturity to correctly understand such complex themes. However, with the current publication, a conversation with an older parent or guardian who has accompanied a young person during the viewing is likely to be sufficient to explain and clarify the issues dealt with in the film, and in that manner mitigate any likely injury to the public good.
Given the film’s inherent artistic, cultural, and social merit the case for widening its availability in limited circumstances to children and young persons is further strengthened. The publication is classified is objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years or who are accompanied by a parent or guardian. This restriction on availability is the minimum necessary to prevent likely injury to the public good.Classification Office written decision, February 2016
Most students (99%) thought the film contained violence. Students generally thought that there was not a lot of violence overall, but violence when it did occur could be quite impactful and shocking. Some noted the power imbalances of violence towards someone who is tied up, and the violence of an adult (Jeremy) towards a child (Kenae). Students generally agreed that violence was not glamourised or sensationalised.
Most students (99%) thought the film contained crime. Depictions of criminal activity included assault, breaking and entering, drug use, and theft. Many thought that the crimes were largely shown to be consequence-free and that this could have a negative impact on younger viewers – including the use of illegal drugs which some considered to be promotional to some extent. In general however crime was not seen to be promoted, but the violent crime depicted could nonetheless have a high impact.
Most students (97%) thought the film contained suicide. Many expressing that the theme of suicide was present throughout the film. Even though the depiction was not particularly explicit, it was considered to have a high impact by many – some noting that this subject matter could be triggering for people who have lost someone to suicide, or who had contemplated or attempted suicide. Students noted that negative consequences of the suicide were depicted by focusing on the father’s grief, while others thought that this depiction could be harmful to young people who may consider suicide as a way to 'get back' at a family member. Overall, there was a general consensus that suicide was dealt with in a thoughtful way, and that it was not sensationalised or promotional.
Almost all (96%) students thought the film contained offensive language. Students thought the language was used throughout the film, sometimes in a conversational manner which accurately reflected how these characters would speak to one another. Sometimes more aggressive language was used as part of threatening behaviour, and this was considered to have a higher impact. In the context of the other matters dealt with in the film, the use of offensive language was not seen as particularly harmful – particularly for more mature viewers. However some students pointed out that a younger audience may not be able to understand the context of the language use and could therefore use this type of language in inappropriate situations.
A majority of students (68%) thought the film contained conduct that would be dangerous if imitated by a child or young person. Conduct mentioned included smoking, substance abuse, and underage drinking. Also mentioned was criminal acts such as shoplifting and breaking and entering. Suicide was also considered to be dangerous imitable conduct.
A majority of students (68%) thought the film contained cruelty. Mostly this was in relation to Kenae tying up and assaulting Jeremy. Psychological cruelty was important, for example Kenae's threats of violence towards Jeremy, and Tibs' attempts to manipulate Jeremy by threatening to lie to police about Jeremy's conduct towards the siblings.
A majority of students (63%) thought the film contained sexual material, though it did not contain actual sex scenes. Frequently mentioned was the use of sex by Tibs as a method of manipulation towards Jeremy – for example, when Tibs stripped naked to distract him as he entered the house, and later as a way of helping ensure that Jeremy would not hand them over to the Police. Some students thought this kind of behaviour could have a negative influence on young people.
Descriptive notes inform the public about content within a film which may concern them. The descriptive note for Orphans & Kingdoms informs potential viewers that the film contains 'violence, offensive language, nudity, drug use and suicide'. When students were asked what descriptive note they thought the film should have, most noted violence (88%) and offensive language (77%). Some other notes suggested were suicide (40%), drug use/references (38%), and crime (36%).
Female students were more likely to suggest a descriptive note for suicide (46% compared with 27% of males), and male students were more likely to suggest a note for drug use/references (43% compared with 30%) and sexual content (34% compared with 23%).
The majority of students identified teenagers and adults as the intended or likely audience of the film. A number of students indicated that the film would appeal to New Zealanders in particular.
Students were asked about the dominant effect of the film as a whole on its likely audience: what type of film was it and how would it make viewers feel? Many students identified the film as a drama, crime drama, an independent film, and a work of social realism. Some considered the film to be a thriller. Overall, students tended to think the film had a high emotional impact and that it created a sense of empathy for those in marginalised groups in society, and for people affected by a loved one's suicide. Many thought the film promoted an awareness of social issues such as race, class, orphans and the welfare system.
A bit of a wakeup call to what life is like for some people around the world. For New Zealanders it really hits home.Student from Tauranga
The film had a strong moral message – it shows youth what can happen if you get off track, it also shows how crime can be committed by decent people.Student from Tauranga
Being a young teen I can personally relate to the characters and so feel more emotional about suicide etc. I was drawn into the film.Student from Wellington
It was an emotional drama, and could make people angry about social injustice.Student from Hamilton
Dramatic film – leaves the audience 'sad' but it's enlightening as we see the way that other people live and lots of themes we are not usually exposed to.Student from Tauranga
When deciding on a film's classification, the Classification Office must consider if it has any merit, value or importance — such as artistic merit or cultural significance. In some cases this could lead to a lighter classification.
Most students (87%) thought Orphans & Kingdoms had merit. When asked to specify what kind of merit or value the film had, students often referred to the film's artistic, social, cultural and educational merit. Most noted social and cultural issues relevant to New Zealanders, and that the film dealt with suicide in a thoughtful way. A number of students mentioned that the film has educational merit and could be used in schools:
Presents many themes which are important for people to see and be exposed to/learn about. Shows the difference between cultures and upbringings (especially in NZ) and uses good cinematography and imagery to portray it.Student from Tauranga.
Gives a greater understanding of cultural and social ideas and circumstances surrounding criminals. Character depth of these criminals was explored – we understand them as human.Student from Hamilton
It promotes discussion about our society – suicide and poverty amongst young people. It could be used as a tool to discuss these things amongst teens.Student from Hamilton
Cinematography of the film was great displaying a lot of different angles, shots and movements to portray thoughts and feelings of characters.Student from Hamilton
Very important themes for New Zealand society. Great acting, great cinematography and direction.Student from Hamilton
It has quite a strong social and moral message about understanding differences and finding redemption or some sort of peace through helping others and accepting them.Student from Wellington
Illustrates how compassion is more powerful than anger.Student from Wellington
Students were asked to think about the impact of viewing Orphans & Kingdoms in a cinema, and whether the impact would be different if watching the film at home either on Blu-ray/DVD or online. The majority (59%) felt that the film would have a different impact depending on how and where people watched it. Most of these students thought the impact at a cinema would be greater, but not significantly:
It would have less of an impact at home because the sound system is not as good. The cinema screen size lets the audience see everything that's happening.Student from Tauranga
Others thought that this type of film wouldn't necessarily have greater impact at the cinema:
I think it would have a similar effect as the themes/story is the most important part of it and thus it is not reliant on situation/medium to have its effect.Student from Tauranga
We would like to thank Paolo Rotondo and co. for letting us use this wonderful kiwi film. Without distributors' generosity in lending us a pre-release film, Censor for a Day would not be possible.
We would also like to thank the cinema managers, projectionists and other staff at Event Cinemas Lower Hutt and Tauranga, and Hoyts Te Awa Hamilton. Cinema staff provided us with excellent service and ensured the events ran smoothly.
Lastly we would like to thank the students and teachers from Wellington, Waikato and Bay of Plenty who made the event another success, and who gave us valuable feedback in the process. We hope to see some of you at a future event!
Orphans and Kingdoms unfolds as a brief, exhilarating and always watchable fable of 21st century New Zealand.Graeme Tuckett, Stuff.co.nz