Disclaimer: The following expresses personal views informed by taste and professional experience. The text is intellectual property of the author. The imagery is credited to the relevant artists and production companies.
R.O.C. (40 plus one) by Julião Sarmento
- Originally published in Now Then Issue#45, December 2011;

R.O.C. (40 plus one) by Julião Sarmento
This is where I stand on the subject of Censorship: every single aspect of the human condition (no matter how dark, difficult or inconvenient) should be allowed to be explored in any medium.
Therefore, Censorship by third parties – that would’ve had nothing to do with the creative process of the work in question – should have absolutely no place.
It’s unavoidable that some will formulate, express and explore with better intentions than others.
It’s the old issue of Integrity in Art. But, not even the work of those who seek to exploit and/or are devoid of discernment or talent should have to endure such ‘involuntary circumcisions’.
R.O.C. (40 plus one) by Julião Sarmento
Condemnation in such cases should be restricted to the critical realm, where everything that falters in such works can be identified with some sort of lucidity – or within other quarters, such as dedicated forums where you would expect contributors to be at least well-informed.
No one has the right to stop someone else’s form of expression from being known to the rest of the world. No one should be allowed or be given the power to dictate what can or cannot be said or seen.
R.O.C. (40 plus one) by Julião Sarmento
I’m talking from the perspective of someone who generates artistic work in a specific format; but there’s a flipside to all this that is equally disconcerting (to say the least): that of the public (or audience).
We’re all, by default, recipients of what is put out there. Taste and interests may vary, but, in principle, our right to experience, digest and even be offended by unsavoury or challenging material should be unquestionable. 

La Bête (1975) by Walerian Borowczyk
The problem with the medium of film is very specific, in this instance. It lies, first of all, in its apparent proximity to real life by means of a permanent invitation to suspend disbelief.
A film which succeeds in what it set out to express has, above all, to convince the viewer. By convincing it may very well influence. Such influence can be on a philosophical level, but also in the ways in which it can appeal to the viewer’s personal morals and orientations.
In the Censor’s mind, this is one tiny step away from corrupting. But, the way I see it, such view is more like a giant, patronising, condescending leap that assumes an awful lot about us and truly, 
La Bête (1975) by Walerian Borowczyk
in fact, doesn’t want to encourage free thinking.

Going back to the filmmaker’s perspective, it is very tempting to think of the Censor as someone with utter contempt for the efforts of artists. Yet, with this article, I’m setting out to present a democratic dissection of Censorship. This is why, unlike the old British Board of Film Censors’ practice of ‘cutting things out’, I’m choosing to splice in ‘evidence’ that may very well undermine my most fundamental points...

BBFC Evidence # 1
The Killing of Sister George (1968) by Robert Aldrich
‘We are paid to have dirty minds.’ - stated allegedly John Trevelyan, Chief Censor of the British Board of Film Censors between 1958 and 1971. Whilst he was upfront with the notion that ‘at that particular moment in time’, the British public was not ready to see certain things on screen, he also had no qualms to say that he was ‘very much interested in the films the artist wants to make’.
To the exasperation of many, he would quite candidly express his biases and predilections to do with art cinema, going even as far as to say that he understood that part of the artist’s duty is to shock and provoke - that he knew that ‘the artist is often ahead of their time’ and therefore he would always encourage filmmakers to work in partnership with him. That way, he could continue to simultaneously fulfill the core aspect of his duties: to protect the British public.

The Killing of Sister George (1968) by Robert Aldrich
This paradox would almost verge on the endearing, if a bigger, uncomfortable question didn’t loom over this entire issue: what is it that the British public needs so much protection from?
 Well... Sex, apparently.
Through the years, the BBFC has enabled mainstream cinema to ‘get away with’, for instance, a lot of violence. The problem is always when depictions of sex are thrown into the equation.
The grounds on which the Board determines if a film is suitable for consumption vary, but one doesn’t need to look hard to spot sex as a key ingredient.
There seems to be a self-perception in British Society which is informed by strict parameters of what is decent. This moral-abiding trait is at the root of the BBFC and other historical moralistic crusaders, with their attempts to dictate what is ‘proper’ and condemn what lies in its periphery...

 Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), the last film by the renowned Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, was originally submitted to the BBFC by its American distributors, United Artists, in January 1976.
In a nutshell, the film is an extreme metaphor of what a totalitarian state can do to its children. It explores such notion through transposing the Marquis de Sade novel to a claustrophobic community where fascist figures of an older generation indulge in the ritualised torture and degradation of a large group of youngsters. Crucial to the impact that the film continues to have is not just its slow-paced realistic depiction of the acts, but the adoption of the Circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno to its basic structure.  
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Salò was denied a certificate on the legal grounds of gross indecency. It needs to be clarified that British Law defined gross indecency as 'anything which an ordinary decent man or woman would find to be shocking, disgusting and revolting', or, of course, which 'offended against recognised standards of propriety'. Now, unlike its ‘cousin law’ also devised to protect the unsuspecting British public, the Obscene Publications Act (which back then could not be applied to films), gross indecency erradicated any possibility of defence based on artistic or cultural merit. In fact, even the film’s valid message, based on its whole, could be ignored, if any part of it was deemed indecent and therefore illegal.

BBFC Evidence # 2
Salò was to be screened for the first time in Britain at the Old Compton St cinema club in 1977, where it was viewed by members only, uncut and, crucially, without a BBFC certificate.
When the authorities raided the cinema and confiscated the print, the owners, who were then facing legal action under the offence of common law indecency, tried to appeal in an unexpected way.
In their defence, they clarified that it was only after the advice of the Secretary of the BBFC, James Ferman, that they decided to screen the film uncut.
So, here’s what actually happened the year before: United Artists simply assumed that cuts, no matter how extensive, would be enough to attain a certificate, but James Ferman stood his ground, arguing that any form of editing would undeniably 'destroy the film's purpose by making the horrors less revolting, and therefore more acceptable'.
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini
This is an incredible feat on Ferman’s side. He might’ve officially banned the film from having a commercial release for decades, but his actions and intentions were clear when he stated that Salò is 'one of the most disturbing films ever to be seen by the Board, yet its purpose is deeply serious... it is quite certainly shocking, disgusting and revolting - even in the legal sense - but it is meant to be. It wants us to be appalled at the atrocities of which human nature is capable when absolute power is wielded corruptly'.
This is a very rare case of a Censor protecting the vision and ultimate intention of a filmmaker, by refusing to excise a single frame from their work. By stepping forward in its defence the following year - approaching the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and exposing the legal action as one big embarrassment - Ferman was to make film history.

What this most vilified figure of British Cinema would become most known for though was his crusade against what were to be labelled video nasties in the 1980’s.
The advent of Home Entertainment delivered an onslaught of unregulated violence, gore and sex, which Ferman saw his mission to curtail.
Crowning such titles (at least from the perspective of cultural identity this article pursues) is Straw Dogs - Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 masterpiece about a young couple’s descent into tribal protection of territory in a downward spiral of violence set in rural England.
The film was passed and released on the big screen with a number of cuts, but it wasn’t till its reincarnation on the videotape format that its content became an issue, leading to an eventual ban.
Straw Dogs (1971) by Sam Peckinpah
At the centre of the problem was (and still is) the unscripted rape scene in which the wife, played by Susan George, is shown to give in to pleasure. The build-up and context for that scene is meticulously crafted in a way that makes it psychologically coherent – no matter how controversial.
Straw Dogs (1971) by Sam Peckinpah
But, whilst this aspect (if fully understood) might pose some fundamental questions about womanhood and how one should aim to depict sexual violence, I propose that Straw Dogs makes the British uncomfortable by touching an altogether different nerve.
Like a Clockwork Orange of the same year - which was equally problematic by BBFC standards - Straw Dogs may have been made by an American director, but it’s an intensely British film.
Straw Dogs (1971) by Sam Peckinpah
The key to what Peckinpah’s film expresses is ultimately the ‘discomfort’ a large section of the British people feel around foreigners. Where I say discomfort, some would say suspicion – which in turn is what leads the locals in Straw Dogs to reject the American husband of one of their own.
Since those panicky days, Straw Dogs has then been re-released uncut on the big screen and is now available on various formats of Home Entertainment, with a lot of its troubled history included as additional extra material for cinephiles.

There is a 1976 film that was not so much outright banned, but conveniently ignored and was for decades unavailable to buy in the UK.
My desire to watch it could only be fulfilled, quite appropriately, by ordering an overseas Region 1 DVD copy online a few years ago. It’s remarkable how resonant the transposition of the original oriental set-up of Yukio Mishima’s novel becomes, when transposed to Britain.
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (1976) by Lewis John Carlino
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea is adapted and directed by another American, Lewis John Carlino, and has at its centre (once more) the rejection of ‘those who don’t belong here’. It moves from the private – with the exception a thirteen year-old boy takes to his widowed mother’s new lover (played by Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson respectively) – to the secret – in the shape of a gang of schoolboys which gear the protagonist’s resentment towards a cruel revenge that, in turn, expresses a disturbing re-balance of things.
If the boy can be seen to be a young Norman Bates (spying on his mother through a hole in the wall, as she seems to summon her future lover through masturbation and later succumbs to his advances with sheer abandonment) and Kristofferson a perfect embodiment of foreign masculinity, the strict hierarchy of the gang of schoolboys (with their weariness towards change) can only be perceived as an extreme, unsettling metaphor for British society.
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (1976) by Lewis John Carlino
What lies beneath the surface of this particular sense of order has become a key element of my own work – with Britain providing the perfect template for my measured approach to filmmaking.
It’s the reserve and general emotional containment that fuel my characters’ behaviour as they wander through a modern world which has been carved by force onto the natural one.
This is most apparent in my 2006 feature film Antlers of Reason, where such disengagement steps up a gear – when allied to murky psychological tapestries.
Antlers of Reason (2006) by João Paulo Simões
Although the obvious parallel with Carlino, Kubrick and Peckinpah could certainly be drawn (of me being a foreign director, who comes to these Isles to make a quintessentially British film), I’m bringing up this personal example to expose Censorship on different grounds – and on an altogether different platform.
Soon after its completion, Antlers of Reason attained a limited distribution in cinema clubs across the US. Back then, my views on the exploitation of artistic work were certainly more ‘anarchic’, so I also placed the entire film online - available to download for free and broken into reels on Youtube (which was still in its infancy).
Antlers of Reason (2006) by João Paulo Simões
This promotion was mostly coordinated by a Dutch agent I had at the time and she certainly took most of the blow of what ensued. She shielded me against the attacks of a vast number of offended viewers and I’m still to know exactly how their vicious response could result in such swift ‘disassociation’ on the part of those who were enthusiastically showing and talking about it.
What I know for a fact, by having seen just a sample of the hate emails sent our way, is that these raised voices were definitely singing the Evangelical Christian tune.
In America, it only takes a few of those to be influential enough for you not to stand a chance. So the already limited distribution was cancelled, radio shows stopped talking about it and three of the reels which were streaming online to thousands of hits per day were removed.      
As a struggling, independent filmmaker my only possible source of an answer was Youtube, but this ‘most democratic of online hosts’ went from being generic in their replies to apologising in a way which seemed to say: ‘Don’t ask any more questions.’
Antlers of Reason (2006) by João Paulo Simões
My feeling was that of someone who’s minding his own business and is suddenly confronted with unjustified animosity. But, judging by the content removed, it’s very clear why these specific groups had a problem with the film.
The Antlers of Reason narrative revolves around a progressively destructive affair between a support worker and her client – an inarticulate foreigner on the fringes of society. At a certain point, she’s seen falling asleep whilst waiting for him and her dream (or flashback) portrays a less consensual sexual encounter between them.
As it’s been noted, she’s never seen to wake from her dream, but moments later, does get up, clearly bruised inside, on the spot where the ‘rough’ encounter took place and the narrative then proceeds.
Antlers of Reason (2006) by João Paulo Simões
My film, which was shot in black & white, touches upon a range of ambiguities and is punctuated by moments of physical displacement which add to its unease.
What is clear is that hardcore Christians don’t do shades of grey...
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
At a time when artistic merit and a filmmaker’s reputation seem to reign, one would think that anything goes. See, for example, Lars Von Trier’s completely half-baked Antichrist (2009) – whose explicit depictions of sex and violence were to be passed without a single cut by the BBFC simply because... well, it’s a Lars Von Trier film.
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
But, apparently, this is not the case. When you think that Censorship has finally been put to rest in this permissive and un-shockable day and age, along comes a certain Human Centipede 2 (2011)...
The film’s sexual violence and moral obscenity has been initially rejected by the BBFC, which banned it outright, but that decision was recently reversed, when its UK Distributors, Eureka Entertainment, ordered to remove a total of 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
These cuts seem to have been applied on the aspects of the content that most concerned the BBFC: graphic imagery of a character’s teeth being removed with a hammer, of the killing of a newborn baby, etc, etc.
It is very clear to read in the director’s own words, that these scenes were designed as an invitation to that initial UK ban. It makes for a great marketing calling card – when violence and gore have been so easily incorporated into the mainstream via such films as the Saw and Hostel series.        
He created the perfect bait and the BBFC gobbled it... There are still ways of seeing the uncut version, but I am choosing to exercise a personal ban on the grounds of: lack of time, everything about it looking pretty contrived and the director being called Tom Six.
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
- Originally published in Now Then Issue#18, September 2009; 

As a filmmaker who has encountered a certain degree of controversy and a considerable amount of moral judgement in my own work, I went into the screening of Antichrist really wanting to empathise with it.
It is impossible for a number of reasons, but none of them related to the aspects the film has most been attacked for. The real sex, the excruciating torture, the maiming of male genitals followed by the penis ejaculating blood and the shocking clitoridectomy in extreme close-up could all still be there - with even more intensity, if needed be, and serving pretty much the same purposes.
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
The problem lies in everything else that surrounds them. This is very poorly scripted film, to begin with. The psychotherapy elements feel copy/pasted from text books onto the mouths of characters without much discernment and verging on the laughable. The mythological/supernatural aspects of it, used to back-up the horror with some semblance of substance, are only but half-heartedly addressed.
Antichrist (2009) by Lars von Trier
And visually, the often praised “beautiful” imagery couldn’t be more awkward. It’s undeniable evidence of a cinematographer left to his own devices and lacks in spirituality altogether. There’s a place for this kind of vacant stylisation and it’s called advertising – and still, there’s been a handful of adverts through the years with more depth than a lot of films.
The final dedication to filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is the ultimate offense and a definite embarrassment. It does not legitimise such immature piece of filmmaking.

- Originally published in Now Then Issue#75, June 2014;

There’s one thing someone should’ve said to Lars Von Trier - and not just before he made his latest film, Nymphomaniac. This should’ve been said to little pre-pubescent Lars, who undoubtedly amused and entertained grown-ups with his cleverness: you’re not as funny as you think you are.
Like its director, Nymphomaniac is a film which seems to think it’s a lot of things – among them, funny – but it’s not...
I thought long, but not very hard, whether I should watch it at all (let alone write about it). His utterly pointless Antichrist (2009) still casts a long shadow and, seriously, running at 4 hours of length, I wasn’t sure I could afford the commitment. Yet, the film had already found its way to these pages, as it served as a template for previous dissection of the current nature (and matter) of hype (NT#66).
Nymphomaniac (2013) by Lars von Trier
As devised by its production company, the almost year-long online campaign to stimulate interest and to (supposedly) titillate the senses turned out to be just like the film itself: only good in theory. What it did, in fact, was to expose the film’s unevenness and, worse, the director’s increasingly blatant cinematic weaknesses.
In a smart manipulation of film forums and social media alike, they released a sneak preview of each of the film’s chapters every month - in a countdown to the premiere. Amidst the patchiness of aesthetics, tone and intention was what seemed to be a gem: a glimpse into Chapter 7, entitled The Mirror.
As someone who takes Cinema (and its history) seriously, I cringed at yet another reference to the finest filmmaker that ever lived (Andrei Tarkovsky), but the content did surprise me.
Nymphomaniac (2013) by Lars von Trier
In brief, we find the titular nymphomaniac (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) collecting an array of objects from her clinical apartment, padding and covering up every potentially phallic part of every single appliance, painting a mirror white to eradicate reflections and lying inert over a bare mattress.
The understanding of the cinematic potential of the character’s circumstances seemed remarkable and brought to mind Von Trier’s once impressive incisiveness.
But, that, together with a well-edited Official Trailer, were to become nothing but unfulfilled promises in what turned out to be an overlong, hopelessly weak film...

Nymphomaniac (2013) by Lars von Trier
Still ahead of its release, Nymphomaniac continued to tease and tickle both camps (for and against Von Trier) in equal measure. Rumours of two versions (hard and soft-core) being released turned into confirmation of the split into two separate volumes/films; followed by the news that Von Trier had given up his 5 hours and a half edit of the film, in favour of the more commercially-accepted overall length of 4 hours. Although the so-called director’s cut will emerge eventually, the version presently available bears his name and should be acknowledged for what it is.
Nymphomaniac - Director's Cut (2013) by Lars von Trier
For all the talk of visual effects placing the faces of actors onto their porn doubles’ (which may or may not materialise in that longer version), the current cut of Nymphomaniac soon achieved one of its aims: divisive opinions amidst the critical sphere.
Some jumped on the apparent unapologetic feminism at the core of the film and have used it to validate it. Others can’t get over the fact that for an over-hyped film about sex, there’s not that much of it in sight at all...

So what is actually wrong with it?
The previous aforementioned Filmreel reference to the film noted that ‘the only truly commendable quality of Nymphomaniac is its (..) identification with Von Trier’s finest trait: not caring in the slightest for what we think.’
Having seen it, I can now say that for something which appears not to care, the film does try, desperately and throughout, to convince us.
Nymphomaniac (2013) by Lars von Trier
That’s problem number one: the intellectual interactions between the protagonists are a constant attempt to underline ideas evoked in each chapter. But it gets worse than that when this ‘underlining’ tries to be visual and, I suspect, humorous. The verbal is often made visual in a way that is so literal that it effectively kills the point – or annihilates our opportunity to make it personal for ourselves (as a good book would).
And that’s problem number two, right there: for a film which takes a literary structure, Nymphomaniac is too literal. Whilst sections of the dialogue flow well enough through some great acting, the constant trivia and self-analysis (which hints perhaps at a vague, but never fully realised, post-modernistic angle) results in the most contrived of narrative devices.
But there’s more.
Self-reference is only interesting if it helps a given film in some capacity. Here, it’s used either out of arrogance (the distinction between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic being an obvious dig at the Cannes reactions to director’s previous remarks about Hitler) or personal vanity (nods at previous works in the shape of child neglect or red PVC shorts over fishnet tights).
The use of music is appalling. Not even bringing Bach into the equation (in the film’s only decent analogy - between the protagonist’s apparently random activities and the composer’s cerebral polyphony), rescues or elevates the half-baked material.  
As for the ludicrous ending, well, the reliance on a pun – connecting the narrative to the lyrics of a popular song – is something you would find in a bad student film.
- Originally published in Now Then Issue#83, February 2015;

‘When all this is over, there’s nothing of me that you will be able claim as yours...’
This is not a direct quote. These words are a thought, easily formulated by any survivor of a psychological or physical ordeal. It’s a refusal to remain a victim. It’s inner strength’s own private statement - not to allow the rest of one’s existence to be dictated by the singularity of an event or circumstances.
It was with a confident smile that I offered a version of this thought to my academic experience.
Overall, my film education was far from traumatic, but I remember clearly the all-encompassing sense of disenchantment, the disappointment with the lack of genuine stimulation of one’s talent and the absolute outrage when witnessing my grades being lowered for not seeking a specific tutor’s approval.
Psalter Lane Campus - Photograph by Jon Barton@v-graphics
The library at the now defunct Psalter Lane Campus was great, though. And it could’ve easily hosted the moment of that most private thought. It was in my first year at University and amidst the rows of over-handled sticky video boxes that I became properly acquainted with the work of Canadian film director Atom Egoyan.
The Adjuster (1991) by Atom Egoyan
As with a handful of other filmmakers that I previously admired, his Cinema reflected back a lot of what I held as being precious cornerstones of the art of capturing time.
Slow pace was in perfect harmony with the gradual reveal of intentions in his completely character-driven films. With great recognition, I would also witness, film after film, his sobriety of tone and precise aesthetics – akin to David Cronenberg’s (a fellow cerebral Canadian) – and his understanding of the cinematic potential of the opacity of the human face – of which Michelangelo Antonioni (who redefined Modern Cinema) was master. But, above all, I would recognise something a lot less tangible...
Exotica (1994) by Atom Egoyan
The cultural displacement that his upbringing (of Armenian descent) generated in him can be seen as the most crucial influence in his work. The rigorous detachment with which events and behavioural patterns are observed can only be attained by being/feeling removed from the generic traits of the dominant culture.  That was something which I was experiencing most acutely at the time (having arrived from Portugal to live and study in England), but, in truth, had been present throughout my entire life (with my African family roots).
The Sweet Hereafter (1997) by Atom Egoyan
All these aspects can be found in the semi-elliptical masterpieces The Adjuster (1991), Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Yet, in direct contradiction to the personal identification I felt, it’s the latter that marked the beginning of my ‘falling out of love’ with the man – in the shape of Ararat (2002).
Despite being rich in details that I admired and appreciated for being quintessential Egoyan, the aspects connecting the much-disputed Armenian genocide of 1915 at Turkish hands with fictionalised personal trajectories were uncomfortably heavy-handled. The lack of subtlety which punctuated the film throughout was evidence of a director being too close to the material.
Then along came 2005’s Where the Truth Lies, the campiness of which sealed my unconscious farewell to his work. Almost ten years would go by, with his subsequent films being glimpsed from afar. Until now...

The Captive (2014) by Atom Egoyan
The Captive (2014) by Atom Egoyan
The Captive is a psychological thriller revolving around the abduction of a young girl, the impact this has on her parents, the truncated investigation that ensued and the association of the responsible paedophile ring behind it with the pillars of the local community. It’s old-fashioned and Hitchcockian in the best possible sense. 
So, what are the reasons for its poor reception?
From the booing at the last Cannes Film Festival to the general consensus of most reviews, the film has taken a serious beating - which does not correspond to the undeniable quality of filmmaking displayed.
The only two so-called justifications for this could have something to do with, firstly, the fact that Dennis Villeneuve’s delayed release of the similarly-themed Prisoners (2013) overlapped with its appearance; and, second but more importantly, with an audience’s perception.
The Captive (2014) by Atom Egoyan
Ill-placed expectations have corrupted the vast majority of film viewers to the point that the single choice of revealing the culprit from the outset can become detrimental in the appreciation of the film in question. Everything else – the cohesive tone, the clarity of intention on the part of the filmmaker – is instantly disregarded. As if a ‘whodunit’ would always be better to cope with, because then it becomes a matter of identifying plot-holes or being taken by surprise. It’s an utterly selfish approach to a film.
Why is The Captive great for me?
The Captive (2014) by Atom Egoyan
To put it plainly: because I can recognise all the hallmarks of Atom Egoyan’s Cinema in it.
The very familiar fascination with the procedural, the well-observed human behaviour leading to questionable methods under duress and the perfect understanding of grief – it’s all there.
As the narrative moves back and forth in time, echoes of his best previous films made me smile – like a re-acquaintance with the special traits of an old friend.
The new policeman joining the task force having to gaze upon unseen imagery of child abuse and torture is not unlike the customs officer in Exotica, who’s taught to read people from behind a one-way mirror. The cold assessment of grief and trauma evokes The Adjuster. The placing of it against the blank backdrop of a snowy landscape is straight from The Sweet Hereafter. And, from the same film, also comes the paradoxical nurturing of the artistic talent of a girl (on the brink of womanhood), on the part of her abuser.
The acting is so perfectly-tuned – from Kevin Durand’s terrifying presence to Mireille Enos’s powerhouse of barely contained emotion – that, in the non-verbal finale, there’s a thought you can clearly read on a face made less opaque: ‘There’s nothing of me that you are able claim as yours...’      
The Captive (2014) by Atom Egoyan

- Originally published in Now Then Issue#81, December 2014;

If you’re a parent, you worry. And for the rest of your life, apparently...
If, like me, you’re a father working in the visual arts, the digital age poses a myriad of conflicting questions – for which definite answers are few and far between.
There is, nonetheless, an issue that has been recently formulated in my mind. This is my attempt at some sort of answer...

1.0. Voyeurism

Much to the discomfort of many, my film output tends to emphasise the unquestionable voyeuristic nature of Cinema. It’s not quite or just a matter of seeking complicity with the viewer, within contexts which would otherwise shock or challenge. If I had to put it figuratively, it’s like the film basically ‘slows down where it is and takes a good look at itself’.
Victim (2011) by João Paulo Simões
In a world which, by default, the viewer mostly seeks ‘the illusion of reality on screen’, this is bound to alienate.
An audience’s engagement is a fragile thing and, in the eyes of many, I’m already stretching it thin. But, one fundamental truth remains: no art form should remain complacent with what became established as its primary function.
Enter the dirty word Entertainment and its ‘recent’ bastard child - the popular/populist device that is 3D.
Bringing the illusion of that third dimension to the foreground is a ridiculous gimmick that makes children of us all. 
Adieu au Langage 3D (2014) by Jean-Luc Godard
I simply do not care if renowned filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Wim Wenders or Jean Luc Godard have had a go recently at making feature-length films in 3D. Even if their personal reasons for doing so can make for interesting trivia, the true magic of Cinema resides in placing the intangible before our gaze and making it matter, deep inside each of us.
3D is designed to function as an immediate satisfaction that is merely sensorial. Steroids for the senses, which tease a non-existent interactivity, but that, nonetheless are detrimental to imagination and curiosity.
But, one could argue that this is a reflection of the era we’re living in. Instant gratification through digital accessibility... The ever growing interactivity of video games... Technology made tactile with immediate responses on tablets and other mobile devices... All a few taps of the index finger away. And the much demonised – but surely dangerous playground that is – the Internet, offering the ability to share so much and experience so little...
Tomás Briar's World in Minecraft
My 5 year-old son is growing into this self-consuming world – already fixated on Minecraft (which does wonders for his spatial awareness), but often surprised he can’t pause just about anything, anywhere (which makes me wonder where the beauty of the ephemeral has gone).
Voyeurism is still going strong, but it has transmuted itself into a playfulness that removes vast layers of depth from the imagination. It’s not that children and teenagers of today are genetically lacking something my generation thrived on. It’s the fact that fantasy appears before their eyes on demand; that the healthy and truly creative exercise of feeding the mind through the gaze, with greater physical detachment is no more.

2.0. To Be Streamed

Streaming - the epic feature-length horror project I’m developing for release in 2016 - is an extreme ode to the spiritual death of voyeurism. It’s a kaleidoscopic, futuristic and multi-stranded film that encompasses all of the above concerns and more. Yet, to make it current it needs to be brutal, horrific and explicit – all ingredients to which we’ve been desensitised (in the shape of beheadings gone viral, of religious-motivated atrocities made easily replaceable on newsfeeds or of ‘cell phone leaks’ exposing celebrities as weary, vulnerable and imperfect as anyone else).
Streaming (2017) by João Paulo Simões
Streaming also taps into child-abuse and a haunting tradition of impunity (which is defined by the diplomatic immunity of faceless perpetrators and something made unspoken in my country of origin).
The film places it in direct parallel with a digital generation’s common inability to be aware of the manipulation they’re suffering.

3.0. Cinema as Memory

Yet, the crucial aspect of Streaming is embodied in its central character.
Phalanx is a man turned omniscient conscience, whose ulterior motives remain a mystery. He’s the piece of software few know the name of; the necessary evil for a larger structure to function. And he’s also presented as someone who lives simultaneously in the Past, Present and Future.
This is a supernatural, but vastly important trait, which will guide us in the deeper understanding of what the film has to say.
Streaming (2017) by João Paulo Simões
A cinematic experience lived exclusively through the gaze – feeding into our ‘need to look at’ – becomes a memory. It imprints itself amidst our subjective perception.
My view is that this is currently being more than challenged. It’s being corrupted by technological devices that have nothing to do with the art itself.
The actual fabric of an art form is being tampered with. And generations are being born into it – with the innate assumption that Cinema is there to serve them...