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 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 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
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.
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'.
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
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
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
RP16: graphic content may disturb.
20th Century Fox Film Distribution disagreed with the 'R16 content that may disturb' classification given to the film by the Classification Office and applied to have the decision reviewed. Find out more about 127 Hours
R13: contains violence, offensive language, drug use, and sex scenes.
Initially classified as R16 due to the violent and sexual material, and the depictions of drug use. On appeal by United Pictures this was reviewed and re-classified by the Board of Review. Find out more about 8 Mile
M: contains content that may disturb.
Originally cross-rated PG, we received complaints from parents that their children were frightened by the film. They asked the Chief Censor for permission to have the film assessed using our criteria. Find out more about Disney's A Christmas Carol
PG: some scenes may scare very young children.
Originally cross-rated G, we received complaints from parents that their young children were frightened by the film. As a result, the Chief Censor called the film in to be examined by the Classification Office. Find out more about Happy Feet
M: contains offensive language and sexual references.
This film had received its PG rating through the cross-rating process. After complaints from the public, the Chief Censor called the film in to be classified. Find out more about Land of the Lost
RP13: contains violence, drug use and offensive language.
The unusual RP classification is used where a film presents ideas or issues that could challenge younger viewers but might still be valuable to them if they have support while watching. Find out more about Matariki
R13: contains violence and offensive language (film).
RP16: contains graphic violence (video).
Different versions of the film have different classifications as the law changed between the release of the film and the subsequent video. Find out more about Once Were Warriors
R16: contains horror scenes and offensive language.
Members of the public complained to the Classification Office about the film's unrestricted M rating. They felt that the film was very frightening and contained extremely disturbing themes. Find out more about Paranormal Activity
R13: contains violence, offensive language and sexual references.
The "highly offensive language, much of it sexual in nature" in the film contributed to the R13 classification, as did the film's "crassly homophobic sentiments". Find out more about Paul
R15: depicts graphic and realistic war scenes.
This film generated much debate and became a benchmark for NZ film classification. It contains depictions of serious physical harm which are lengthy, frequent, and of a very graphic nature. Find out more about Saving Private Ryan
R13: contains violence and offensive language (film).
R16: contains violence, offensive language and content that may disturb (Blu-ray).
The Blu-ray edition has a higher rating as it also includes a short film, Manjha, that has the theme of sexual abuse.
Find out more about Slumdog Millionaire
R16: contains horror scenes.
Members of the public raised concerns about the M rating on the film as anyone, including young children, could potentially watch it. They felt an age restriction would be more appropriate. The Chief Censor called it in for examination. Find out more about The Grudge
R15: prolonged sequences of brutal violence, torture and cruelty.
The Office was inundated with letters of complaint and support over its R16 classification, which had included public consultation. On appeal, it was re-classified by the Board of Review. Find out more about The Passion of the Christ
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