The list of movies that have been banned in Nova Scotia over the years ranges from the gory (Rabid Grannies, 1988) to the pornographic (Beverly Hills Copulator, 1986) and even includes a few cult classics (Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, 1971—the tagline for Sweetback? "The Film that THE MAN doesn't want you to see!" Apparently not).
Such decisions are made by the Nova Scotia Film Classification Board, a group of appointees paid to watch, judge and regulate film and video content in the province.
Board members don't need any formal qualifications; the board is collectively expected to represent the standards and values of the Nova Scotia community as a whole.
And that, according to NDP MLA Howard Epstein, is where the latest group of 14 appointees falls short. As part of an all-party human resources committee, Epstein sent the 14 latest appointees back to the Department of Environment and Labour last week, recommending the board members be reconsidered.
"Over 50 percent were over age 60, and that's not reflective of what we have in Nova Scotia," he says. "A large number of them seemed to be retired civil servants, or didn't have the kind of life experience that one might hope for."
On the surface, it doesn't seem like it would be difficult for the province to find willing film classifiers. Appointees are paid $50 per half day plus expenses, they generally work from four to six days per month, which works out to a possible annual income of $7,200, and are typically appointed for three years. The actual work involves filling out a one-page form outlining the potentially offensive elements of a film (check boxes include "blood letting," "blasphemy," "homosexual" —seriously—and "full frontal," to name a few), and recommending a rating.
Watch films. Get paid. No experience necessary.
Sweet as it sounds, there have been problems attracting new members to the board. Epstein says the ultimate goal is to see more scrutiny in the appointments.
"Eleven out of the 14 were re-appointments. Seven of the 11 people who had been on the board before had been there for five years, and two have been there for 11 years," he says. "This seemed to me—and the rest of the committee—a little appalling. It seems like a board that's due for some fresh blood."
Bruce Nunn is with the provincial department of Environment and Labour. He says the department does the best it can.
"We're looking for responsible people who will take the job seriously and be tuned into those community values. Often retired people are the ones most likely to have the free time," he explains. Nunn says the final make-up of the board "is pretty much representative of the body of people who applied in the first place...it's an open, public process through advertising."
The Department of Environment and Labour received 36 applications for the 16 board positions. Of the latest appointees, Nunn points out eight are men and six are women, three are French-speaking, and only one of the new board members is of retirement age.
Still, the NDP has expressed concerns about a lack of racial and religious diversity as well. If Epstein had his way, he would re-open nominations to try and draw a wider variety of people—but at this point, such decisions are up to labour minister Mark Parent.
"Really, there's a problem with how this type of position gets advertised," says Epstein. "They run an ad a couple of times a year in the Herald and it's not specific; people are asked at large to apply, in among a long list of other committees...there's a pretty limited opportunity."
For now, appointments have been delayed, but if the recommendations are ignored, there's not much else Epstein can do.
"With the all-party committee, approval is necessary, but we don't really have as expansive a set of powers as might be appropriate," he says. "At this point, it's entirely up to the minister."
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