Film examiner Dr Jim Barratt speaks of changes at the BBFC
1st March 1999
From 6 Degrees: The UK Independent Film Site
6degrees - What role do you see BBFC serving?
JB - The central role of the Board is to classify films, videos and video games in line with statutory requirements. This serves a dual purpose: to protect the film industry from breaching the criminal law and allow it to comply with local
authority licensing arrangements, and to provide consumers with information about the contents of films etc. in order that they can make informed viewing decisions.
6degrees - What changes occurred when Robin Duval took over from James Ferman?
JB - The nature of classification is constantly evolving in line with changes in public sensibilities and attitudes. This makes it difficult to isolate shifts during the transfer between one director and another. James was in the post for
a long time, during which radical changes affected the Board's work (not least the introduction of video). It is too early to say how Robin's approach to the business of classification will impact on the system.
6degrees - Is there a resource archive that you access when attempting to place films in context?
JB - Examiners have a number of resources at their disposal when attempting to place films in context. First and foremost is their combined knowledge of previous decisions- wherever possible the Board operates on the principle of
precedent, allowing for continuity within the system. This shared knowledge is backed up by written records stretching back over the years, with detailed notes on all previous decisions. These records are in the process of being stored
electronically, allowing instant access via a powerful database search engine.
The Board also has a comprehensive library of film related literature which provides a valuable insights into film history, criticism and so on.
6degrees - There seems to be a more transparent and accountable feel to the BBFC lately - comment?
JB - When Andreas Whittam Smith became President, he outlined three objectives for the Board: to promote consistency within the classification system; to ensure that the Board remained in touch with public attitudes; and to encourage the
Board to be as open as possible. There are a variety of means to achieving these aims. Since 1985 the Board has been obliged to lay an annual report before Parliament as the designated authority for video classification. In addition, the Board
strives to answer all letters from the public. Recently, the commitment to openness has been facilitated with the publication of a set of classification guidelines, and the provision of access to the classification database available on the web
site. Last year the Board also ran a series of roadshows around the country, in an attempt to open up the work of the Board and invite feedback from the public.
6degrees - What guidelines, if any, are there from the government to your policy decisions?
JB - The government provides no guidelines. The BBFC must, however, comply with the requirements of the law including the Video Recordings Act 1984- for example Section 4A which requires that, when classifying videos, the Board must have
special regard to any harm that may be caused by the portrayal of criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violence, sexual activity etc. Policy decisions (and the classification guidelines) are a matter entirely for the BBFC.
6degrees - Previously banned video nasties are now being released what are the BBFC's attitudes to this, given that anyone can gain access to these movies?
JB - Many of the so called 'video nasties' were never prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, and so are eligible, in principle, for video classification. These titles have lost a lot of their power due to the fact that audience
expectations, and the ways in which audiences relate to films, change over time. Audiences, used to films like 'Scream' and the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series, are no longer taken in by dated horror techniques to the same extent that they were
when these films were at the cutting edge of the genre. Things have moved on, and the Board recognises that older horror titles can be read in different ways with the passage of time. As for these titles appearing in the home, they have such
notoriety as a result of their mythological status as 'nasties' that many parents will be forewarned about their likely contents and can act to restrict them accordingly.
6degrees - Is there a relaxing on the attitudes to violence and soft porn laws?
JB - No.
6degrees - How significant is the film 'The Idiots' being released uncut?
JB - The decision to pass 'The Idiots' without cuts was entirely consistent with our written guidelines on sexual material at '18', which allow explicit detail if it is brief and justified by the narrative context. It does not signal any
change in policy.
6degrees - Does media / press reaction make a difference to the way films are released?
JB - Media reaction to the Board's work is a useful, if flawed, barometer of public attitudes. By monitoring media coverage of the Board's work, we are able to get a sense of the ways in which the public relate to our decisions. This can
provide useful feedback, although we recognise that such coverage is not a perfect representation of public attitudes.
6degrees - What can you see for the future of the BBFC?
JB - These are interesting times. Film and video are ever more popular, and there are some exciting developments ahead (DVD, the continuing development of digital media etc.) Two factors in particular are going to influence the Board's
future operations. The first is an appeal in July, brought by two porn distributors who are appealing recent R18 decisions. The outcome of the appeal, heard by the Video Appeals Committee, will have implications for the way in which sexual
material is dealt with by the Board in the future. The second development is the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. Article 10, which deals with freedom of expression, will inevitably have some bearing on our
work as regulators.