All for the sake of art

22 August 2011

Written by: Samantha Afetian

The notoriously offbeat Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) is back for its twelfth year of screenings. Rated R18+, the festival promises to shock and offend its viewers.

This year’s theme, Destroy All Movies, contains a line up of controversial, unsettling independent films displaying a big metaphorical middle finger to censorship. Offensive, yet strangely insightful, the festival’s line up will leave audiences questioning the fine distinction between what is art and what is trash.

The Friday night opening film, A Serbian Film, has been declared by festival officials to be the sickest film ever shown at MUFF.

Festival Director Richard Wolstencroft introduced the film by saying, ‘load up on alcohol. You’re going to need it.’

‘Warning: a portion of this film may be offensive to some viewers’ flashed across the screen before the film began – a gross understatement of what was about to unfold.

Audiences can never be completely mentally prepared to face this appalling, mind-warping film. Beyond controversial, A Serbian Film contains highly explicit pornographic content and uses disturbing references to bestiality and pedophilia as metaphors for Serbian politics.

After an onslaught of sex, violence, and sadistic gore, the audience is left in a state of shock, asking themselves, ‘What the hell just happened?’

The film is meant to ‘push the limit of what is acceptable and permissible in modern day cinema,’ according to Wolstencroft.

It seems the South Australian Classification Council agreed. Officials banned A Serbian Film on Thursday from being released in South Australia, one day before it screened at the Melbourne festival.

‘[The film] was grotesque at a number of levels,’ says South Australian Attorney-General John Rau, as reported by ABC. ‘Exploitative sexual violence, offensive depictions of interactions between children and adults, exploitative behaviour generally of a nature that is so unusual that I can’t imagine how any right-thinking person could think that this was something that should be appropriately, legally obtained in South Australia.’

Wolstencroft says showing the film and other films with similar content will help further society intellectually.

‘Censorship really destroys some films for the public,’ he says. ‘It is healthy for things to cause you to think about your own ideology. New ideas are a sign of a healthy society. They will help us evolve to the über mind.’

The festival runs until August 27 and culminates with the screening of another Serbian film, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang, the ‘second sickest film’ the festival has ever played. The festival will also host discussions about cinema and censorship throughout the week.

Wolstencroft warns that the rest of the festival’s films will push the mental boundaries of the most cultured of cinema fanatics.

‘Art has to be controversial,’ he says. ‘No one has the right to not be offended. The best art should offend and make people think.’

Samantha Afetian is a Journalism student at La Trobe University, currently on exchange from San Diego State University, and a member of upstart’s editorial team.  You can follow her on Twitter: @SamAfetian.