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'I will never trust you again': Complaints to IFCO reveal dissatisfaction over Irish film classifications

The office has received complaints about six films this year.
Jul 14th 2019, 10:01 PM 34,447 28

AQUAMAN, MARY QUEEN of Scots and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are among the films whose age classifications have caused a stir among cinema-goers this year, new records show.

Documents seen by TheJournal.ie show how the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) defended its classification of six films in the first half of the year, following complaints from members of the public.

The office, which was previously known as the Film Censor’s Office, is responsible for certifying all films, videos, trailers and video games distributed in Ireland.

It aims to provide a system of classification that protects children and young people, while also having regard for freedom of expression and respecting “the values of Irish society”.

In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the office classified more than 1,000 films and trailers and more than 3,000 videos.

However, records released following a Freedom of Information request show that not everybody has been happy with IFCO’s system of classification this year.

Documents show how the office received several complaints about films screened in Irish cinemas in the first half of the year.

Here is how it defended its classifications:

Aquaman (12A)

In January, a member of the public wrote to IFCO to complain about the 12A certification given to superhero film Aquaman.

The individual complained after seeing two children “who looked about 5 years old” in the cinema where they were watching the film.

They wrote:

“I thought it was [a] strange movie for kids that age as the characters were talking about killing each other, war, defilement, etc.

In response, IFCO’s Director of Film Classification, Ger Connolly outlined the correct interpretation of the 12A rating, which is that adults can bring those younger than 12 to a film with that classification.

He said that the rating had been introduced a number of years ago to give parents more discretion when choosing viewing material for their children.

But he agreed that he did not believe a 12A film was suitable for a 5-year-old, and accepted that the individual was put in an “undesirable situation”.

However, Connolly added that such situations are “not very common” because the office’s classifications are generally adhered to by those who cared for children.

Mary Queen of Scots (15A)

Also in January, a member of the public contacted IFCO to complain about the classification of the Oscar-nominated historical drama Mary Queen of Scots.

The individual claimed that the film, starring Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan, contained “shocking” scenes of sex and violence in its opening half.

They wrote:

I do not think they are appropriate for 15 year olds and the use of A for advisory provides no information.
In fact I wish I had not had it in front of my own eyes and I’m much older than 15.
You have debunked any notion that age ratings are of any value.

In response, Connolly accepted that the film features scenes of violence, particularly a stabbing to death, and brief sex scenes.

However, he said that such scenes were compatible with the 15A rating, which he once again said was created using public research and feedback, adding that the film was consistent with other movies classified at that rating.

A Dog’s Way Home (PG)

On 28 January, another member of the public contacted IFCO to complain about the children’s film A Dog’s Way Home, which follows a dog who travels hundreds of miles to find its owner.

The individual, who watched the film with their 7-year-old son, wrote to the office to question whether its PG classification was sufficient, giving examples of a number of scenes which they felt crossed the threshold of “mild threat and upsetting content”.

They took issue with a scene containing a dogfight with a pack of wolves, another scene in which poachers kill an animal and pose with its carcass, and another where a dog is chained to a dead homeless man for a number of days and unable to reach any water.

The complainant wrote:

That’s really more something that should kick this out of “mild” and into “are you taking the absolute mick” category, don’t you think?
I’m 42 and even I had a hard time watching that and wondering if the film was about to decide “sod it, let’s teach children that dogs will eat corpses” was [in the PG category] as well…

In response, Connolly said that he appreciated that some scenes may be upsetting to some people regardless of their age, and accepted that people would disagree with the office’s classifications from time to time.

However, he disputed the complainant’s suggestion about the dog being chained to a man and argued that other complaints fell under the office’s guidelines for the classification of the film.

“Regarding the dog being chained to the dead man, I certainly took no inference of the animal making any attempt to eat the corpse and its only concern was to get water,” Connolly said.

“The scene of the dead cougar was upsetting, but I felt was contained within our published guidelines at PG on www.ifco.gov.ie.” 

Instant Family (12A)

In February, one individual wrote to IFCO to say they would “never trust [the office's] ratings again” after going to see the comedy Instant Family, starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as parents who adopt three children.

The complainant went to the film with a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, but believed the film was “absolutely unsuitable” for any child under the age of 15.

They wrote:

The language was awful, constant use of bad language. Sexual content was definitely not suitable for 12/13/14 year olds.
Sexual texts, grooming, talk about shaving private areas, IVF, suitability of ladies [sic] uterus.
Has there been a complete loosening of standards? Horrified this was rated 12A.

In response, Connolly said there was only one use of strong language during the film, and more frequent use of moderate terms and sexual innuendo which fell within the 12A category.

“We also take into account the overall context of a film and its message,” he said.

“In this instance, all issues were resolved constructively within the family and there was no positive outcome for negative behaviours.”

Connolly added that he believed that the film was classified consistently with the office’s guidelines and other releases that were rated 12A.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG)

In March, an individual contacted IFCO to complain about another film’s PG rating, this time the Oscar-winning superhero film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The complainant told the office that they had to leave the cinema after going to see the film with two four- and five-year-old children “as the violence was terrifying them”.

They wrote:

It was sustained and far too graphic for such young eyes and minds, I based our movie choice on the rating, and feel very let down by it having been given a PG.
It is in no way the same category as The Grinch, Ralph Breaks the Internet or many off [sic] the other PG movies we saw over the past 12 months.
I was terrified the boys would have nightmares.

In response, Connolly agreed that the material in the film is “slightly more intense” than the films mentioned by the complainant, but argued that it still fell in line with other PG-rated movies such as Coraline and The House With A Clock In Its Walls.

He explained that the guidelines for the PG rating state that “frightening sequences should not be sustained or graphic” but that “some stronger violence may be permissible” if it was in a fantasy or comic context.

He added that he believed the film fit those guidelines, but once again accepted that people might occasionally disagree with the office’s classification system for valid reasons.

The Kid Who Would be King (PG)

Also in March, an individual wrote to complain about the classification of the fantasy film The Kid Who Would Be King after bringing three children between five and 10 years old to see it.

The complainant told IFCO that they were forced to leave the film and bring them to a different movie after witnessing scary scenes close to the start of the film.

They wrote:

I cannot begin to express my disappointment with the classification of this film.

In my opinion, it is darker and a million times more scary than any Harry Potter film. The villain is truly terrifying.

My heart is heavy as I am upset about the exposure my children had to very dark and unsuitable material.

In response, IFCO’s assistant film classifier David Power said he was sorry to hear about the person’s unpleasant experience, adding that PG films were generally suitable for those aged eight and above.

He said the rating meant that frightening scenes should not be sustained, but some stronger threat may be allowed in a fantasy context.

“Our classifiers felt that film contained plenty of positive themes about loyalty, friendship, family, as well as a strong anti-bullying message,” Power said.

He added that he believed a rating of 12A would be “unduly restrictive”.

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