Late Friday, the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly appointed three of its members to a long-dormant film licensing board that has the power to censor movies shown at the island’s public theatres.
Communications Minister Arden McLean said a decision was made to reconstitute the board because the six theatres scheduled to open 7 December at the Camana Bay complex require written permission of the government-appointed body, known as the Cinematographic Authority, to present films.
One of the films scheduled to be shown at the Hollywood Theaters cinema in Camana Bay, as well as at Cayman’s Marquee Cinema, is The Golden Compass that has been the subject of controversy both in Cayman and internationally.
The author of the book the film is based on, Philip Pullman, is an atheist. Christian ministers here have said the movie itself is not likely to be controversial, but they have expressed concern it could lead children to read a trilogy of books penned by Mr. Pullman of which the first is Northern Lights, published in the US as The Golden Compass.
‘No parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books,’ a statement from the Cayman Islands Ministers’ Association read.
In a recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Pullman dismissed similar accusations from the US-based Catholic League that the film The Golden Compass promotes atheism and denigrates Christianity.
‘I am a story-teller,’ Mr. Pullman told the BBC. ‘If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon.’
Mr. McLean said the brewing controversy over the film, the books that it is based on, and their author was not the reason lawmakers reconstituted the Cinematographic Authority.
‘The main reason was that these cinemas (at Camana Bay) need a licence to operate,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘(The Golden Compass film) is not the reason, but certainly if they have to review that then I am sure the chairman will call a meeting of the authority and review it and make a decision.’
According to the Cinematograph Law (1995 Revision), the board members include the Cayman Islands governor, a member appointed by the governor, and three members of the Legislative Assembly.
The three legislators appointed to the board on Friday were George Town MLAs Lucille Seymour and Alfonso Wright, and Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly. According to Mr. McLean, Governor Stuart Jack has appointed UCCI President Hassan Syed as the fifth and final member of the authority.
Enquiries to the governor’s office about when the newly reformed Cinematographic Authority would meet were not returned on Friday.
In addition to granting licences to cinemas, the law that established the authority allows theatres that exhibit blasphemous, seditious or obscene material to be fined $100 for each offence and also allows jail terms of up to six months for those responsible for the public viewing, if they are convicted by a court.
The law allows places where films are publicly shown to be inspected by police or members of the Cinematographic Authority. If given permission by a judge, police officers can seize the film reels of any offending movies and can order the theatre’s licence-holder to appear before Magistrates Court to explain why the film should not be forfeited.
The authority can also make rules to further regulate the granting of cinematographic licences. It can make provisions which regulate the health and safety of the public at theatres and the health and welfare of children in relation to their attendance at public film exhibitions.
Whether such steps would be taken in the case of The Golden Compass is not known, but both Hollywood Theaters and the company that owns Camana Bay said Friday that they knew of nothing that would prevent either the movie theatre or the film itself from opening as planned.
‘We are anticipating the opening on Friday and that all six of our theatres will be open including the showings for The Golden Compass,’ said Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. spokesperson Susanna Blackburn.
‘I am aware that Dart has applied for the licence to conduct cinematographic exhibitions,’ Heather Wright of Hollywood Theaters wrote in an e-mail to the Caymanian Compass.
According to the government’s Cinematograph Rules (2003 Revision) the authority that licences theatres is supposed to meet quarterly, or more often if directed to do so by the governor.
However, Mr. McLean said the terms of the former Cinematographic Authority board members were allowed to lapse in 2002, and no new members had been appointed until Friday.
‘We haven’t had any new theatres in a while,’ he said.
The Cinematograph Rules (2003 Revision) essentially grandfathered in existing cinema licences which were in force by 25 July, 2002 by allowing them to continue in force on the same terms and conditions that applied on that date.
A controversy that erupted in 2005 over the showing of rap artist Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson’s movie Get Rich or Die Tryin’ prompted some lawmakers to call for greater controls over films that are shown in Cayman. But that situation never led to the reconstitution of the Cinematographic Authority.