Censorship board reconvened

Newly appointed members of a board responsible for the censorship of movies in Cayman have met for the first time in more than three years.

This is the first board to be set up under the amended Cinematograph Law, which was revised in 2009 to enable Cabinet to appoint members to the Cinematographic Board, including one minister of religion.

Previously, the board consisted of the governor as chairman, three Members of the Legislative Assembly, and one other member appointed by the governor and it last met in December 2007.

The five new members of the Cinematograph Board are chairman Steve McTaggart, Heather Bodden, Sean Bodden, Waldo Parchment and pastor Felix Manzanares. The members have been appointed for three years, commencing 1 February.

Minister of Community Affairs Mike Adam said the small but diverse group would address several issues under the law, including determining if certain movies should be shown, licensing premises for the exhibition of films, and updating the Cinematographic Law and its accompanying rules.

“We try to align people who have expertise and knowledge of a particular area or subject with the boards they would be serving on,” said Mr. Adam. He explained that Ms Bodden had previously served on the board; Mr. Bodden is a young film maker working for CITN; Mr. McTaggart set up Blockbuster video stores in Cayman; and Mr. Parchment had previously run a cinema in Cayman, while Mr. Manzaneres, as a pastor, fulfils the role of a minister of religion on the board.

Although there is only one cinema in Cayman – Hollywood Theatres in Camana Bay – Mr. Adam said the board, which will be chaired by Mr. McTaggart, may also look into whether the showing of films at other public venues would need to have the board’s written permission, as stipulated under the law. The law does not apply to private screenings of movies, so will not cover movies available in video stores.

The board, formerly called the Cinematograph Authority, last met in late 2007 to license Hollywood Theatres. Prior to that, it had been dormant since 2002. It was reconstituted in 2007 specifically to license the cinema and included the then Governor Stuart Jack, then George Town MLAs Lucille Seymour and Alfonso Wright, Sister Islands MLA Juliana O’Connor–Connolly, who is now Deputy Premier, and University College of Cayman Islands president Hassan Syed, who has since left Cayman and is subject of a police investigation.

Speaking shortly after the appointments to the board were announced last month, Mr. Manzanares, who is the first minister of religion to be appointed to the board under the amended law, said: “I am on the board, as the constitution allows it, as the religious minister and I will uphold that responsibility. However, I would not just be upholding ‘moral’ values, but offering objective and insightful thoughts to help the board to come to any decision or agreement in the future.”

The board held its first meeting late last month. According to the Cinematographic Rules (2003 Revision), the board will meet quarterly.

When the Cinematograph Board last assembled in December 2007, there were concerns that it had been reconstituted to try to block the showing of The Golden Compass, one of the first movies shown at Hollywood Theatres. However, the board licensed the cinema’s six screens and did not take any steps to prevent the showing of the movie, based on the book Northern Lights by author Philip Pullman. Christian ministers in Cayman at the time expressed concern that the film may lead children to read books by Mr. Pullman, who they described as a “noted English atheist whose objective is to promote atheism as a belief system”.

“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 prior to the release of the film in Cayman in December 2007.

Permission

The Cinematograph Law, first drawn up in 1963, states: “It shall not be lawful for any person to conduct or allow to be presented or given by means of a mutoscope, cinematograph or other similar apparatus any exhibition of pictures or other optical effects, without the permission of the board.”

Mutoscopes, invented in 1894, were used in the early days of cinema and enabled viewed to see moving pictures by peering into a viewing slot and turning a handle, while cinematographs were early film cameras that also acted as film projectors and developers.

Mr. Adam admitted that parts of the Cinematograph Law and Rules were outdated and would need to be examined by the board. The law’s accompanying rules were last updated in 2003 and still refer to the governor as chairman of the board and to MLAs as members of the board.

Another element that the board will look at is annual licence fees, the minister said. Currently, the Cinematograph Rules state that the fee is $750 a year if the admission price to the cinema is less than $2.50 and $1,000 a year if admission exceeds $2.50. Admission to Hollywood Theatres for one adult for an evening show is $11, or $14 for a 3D film. “The fees need to be addressed,” said Mr. Adam.

Under the law, showing films of a “blasphemous, seditious or obscene nature” is an offence carrying a penalty of a fine of $100 and imprisonment for six months upon summary conviction. Prosecutions under the law would be instigated by the board. Anyone found guilty of other offences under the Cinematograph Law would be subject, upon conviction, to a fine of $2,000 and a prison sentence of 12 months.

The Cinematograph Board has the ability to instigate a prosecution of any exhibitions of pictures or sound effects it deems to be of a “blasphemous, seditions or obscene nature”. An exhibition is deemed to be obscene “if its effect taken as a whole is such as to deprave and corrupt persons who have seen it or who are likely, having regard to all the circumstances, to see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it”, according to the law.

Mr. Adam said the cinema at Camana Bay had acted responsibly over the years and had shown films that were suitable for the ages admitted into the cinema. Under the cinema’s licence, no-one under the age of 16 can be admitted to movies designated by the British or American film censorship authorities as suitable for children aged 16 and under. “By and large, I think the cinema has been very responsible in how it conducts its business,” said Mr. Adam. “I don’t know of any situation where, legally, any movies that have been shown were contrary to the law.”

Mr. Adam said the board planned to meet the managers of Hollywood Theatres.

Representative of Hollywood Theatres, Karl Noble said: “Hollywood Theatres was contacted by the new Cinematograph Board, however, we have yet to meet. We are excited about the board’s reformation and look forward to working with them in the future.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. They probably could, but the religious lobby here is far stronger than in either the US or UK. There will be films passed for distribution there which Caymanian churches would strongly object to.

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  2. My home town had a censorship board many years ago–it was the only way for the preachers and sheriff and other mighty upstanding men in the community to get together to watch dirty movies and feel proud that they were protecting the rest of us.

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