Paint Drying

Paint drying on a brick wall.
Still (or possibly a screen capture) from Paint Drying, Charlie Lyne.

Paint Drying (2016) is a film created solely to annoy British film classifiers. This 607 minute epic shows paint drying on a wall. For ten hours and seven minutes. Nothing else. Fourteen hours of footage was shot, however the final cut depended on the funds available to cover the per minute cost of classification. The funds were raised through a Kickstarter project. The BBFC duly reviewed and classified the film as a documentary, suitable for all ages. It’s unclear if this film was also intended to be a reboot or sequel to Paint Drying: The Movie (2009), a 90 minute film available from Amazon.

The idea is amusing enough, and got social media support from people opposed to classification systems, but as a protest it’s not very effective. Film classifiers, depending on the country, are either working for the government or working for the film industry. Either way, they have no say in the laws or corporate agreements that require classification systems. In addition, classifiers in countries that require all films to be classified are used to watching enormous amounts of straight-to-video horror and porn (although, at least in Ontario, classifiers fast forward through porn films). They would probably find watching ten hours of paint drying a welcome break.

More significantly, opposition to classification systems tends to ignore the public demand and support for these systems. Democracies that run film classification and censorship systems do so because elected politicians brought in and maintain laws requiring these systems. In countries such as the United States, where classification is run by the film industry, the intention is to make it unnecessary for the government to respond to the public demand. These systems receive complaints for being too restrictive, particularly from artists and academics, but they also receive complaints for not being restrictive enough.

It’s not just overprotective parents who support classification systems. Theatre owners and video retailers support them. In Canada, distributors of exempt material, such as TV shows, obtain classifications to make it easier to sell their products. Possibly the businesses that support classification are still responding to the overprotective parents, and the rationale for classifications is often based on faulty assumptions, but regardless of the source and legitimacy of the demand for classification, it does exist. Film makers need to live with it.

A key concern of this project was the cost of film classification. The BBFC cost is £121.80 ($230) to submit, plus £8.51 ($16) per minute. This is much higher than in Canada, where rates are typically $2-$4 per minute. All agencies claim to be non-profit, though some Canadian agencies have been sources of income for the government. For major studios, classification costs are negligible, but for independent films they can be prohibitive. Classification agencies, and the lawmakers who control them, need to be more aware of the heavy costs classification can impose. This is where Paint Drying, which cost £5,936 ($11,175) to classify, may be able to draw some attention. Instead of trying to annoy the classifiers, or protest classification, film makers and film viewers need to ensure the government is not placing barriers in the way of independent productions or films with limited appeal. Canadian agencies offer some exemptions from classification or classification fees, but these vary from province to province and have limitations. For example, a festival film does not require classification in Ontario, however the viewers must be over eighteen.

This is not the first time artists have attempted to stymie classifiers. In the early 1980s, a group of artists submitted the anti-pornography documentary Not a Love Story (1981) to the Ontario Board of Censors (as it was then called). The Board refused to classify the film, leading to the claim that the Board had banned an anti-porn documentary. When the matter went to court, the judge noted that the artists had no legal right to exhibit the film, and that the Board was under no obligation to perform hypothetical reviews. The myth of the ban persists. Although the artists did score an anti-classification victory with another film, most films in much of Canada are still subject to prior restraint and bans. Rightly or wrongly, there is public support for this.

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