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Old bums too much for Auckland Transport

A photograph featuring the bare bottoms of an elderly couple bouncing on a trampoline is the feature image of this year’s Doc Edge film festival, but it won’t be appearing in its raw form on AT Billboards or bus backs.

The festival has had to censor the image to meet AT’s advertising policy which deemed the image too risqué for places like Britomart. Mark Jennings reports

Like the documentaries it screens, the annual Doc Edge festival seems to be a magnet for controversy. Last year police were called to The Roxy Cinema in Wellington when protestors chained a ticking black box to a seat during a screening of a documentary on former Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion.

Police were also on hand when the film was screened in Auckland and a pro-Palestinian group were kept outside.

This year, it’s Doc Edge’s advertising material that’s proving controversial – at least in one quarter.

An elderly couple on the trampoline is the “hero image” being used to promote the festival on billboards and in brochures.

“There is a certain joie de vivre with this image, it’s a fun thing,” says festival co-director Alex Lee.

The festival wanted to place the image on billboards at Auckland’s busy central city train station, but QMS, which manages advertising space at Britomart, told it that AT’s policy barred nudity.

Doc Edge got around the issue by placing black banners with the word’s “#life” and “unscripted” over the bottoms.

Auckland Transport has ruled that the The Doc Edge film festival has had to censor bare bottoms and can't use the word 'porn' on its advertising within the Britomart transport hub. 

The photo was sourced from Getty Images but Lee found out by chance that it was taken by Auckland photographer Jessie Casson.

“I contacted Jessie and she told me that the two people in the photograph were her in-laws who live in the UK. She told me that she took the photograph when they had visited at Christmas. She said she challenged them to do something outside their comfort zone so they took off their clothes and jumped on the trampoline."

Carson sold the image to Getty and it now features on a Hallmark card.

Lee says: “Jesse related the story to me that one day the couple walked into their local Tesco store and saw a crowd of people looking at a card. To their shock and pleasant surprise, the photo on the card was of them.”

The image can appear on a card sold in supermarkets around the world but not a billboard at Britomart.

“I think it is a case of New Zealand society having evolved but AT’s policies haven’t,” says Lee’s fellow Doc Edge director Dan Shanan.

Newsroom asked AT when it last reviewed its advertising policy and was told “last year”.

QMS also turned down another billboard image with the word “porn” on it. Shanan says the festival is using the words “A Star is Porn” to promote a documentary about the life of Jonathan Agassi, an Israeli who became one of the world’s most successful gay porn stars.

“QMS told us that AT would disallow the billboard because it involved the sex industry.

"We thought 'A Star is Porn' was smart and funny and in New Zealand the sex industry is legit, this is almost a freedom of speech issue.

“It’s silly, because people will walk out of Britomart and are likely to run into a poster with ‘A Star is Porn’ on it because Phantom the company distributing our posters has no problem with it,” says Shanan.

Of course, a little controversy never hurts ticket sales and Newsroom put it to Lee and Shanan that they might be using it to generate interest in the festival.

Shanan replies “controversy can be good; we are not shy of that. And we do want to screen documentaries that push and challenge people but we are not trying to be controversial with our advertising”.

Lee chimes in, “I think the Israeli porn star film will be controversial but this time it won’t be the anti-Israel crowd protesting it will probably be the moral right.”

This year, social impact films are a feature of the festival. These are documentaries that are made with the purpose of changing societal behaviour.

Lee says: “Social cause documentaries are on the rise. It’s all about impact and documentary-makers are trying to work out how they can make an impact by screening to audiences where there are people who can actually make a difference".

Two high impact social documentaries involving the fishing industry will screen at the festival

Ghost Fleet is about slavery on the high seas and, according to Lee, is a very powerful film. “Fisherman are signed up, they go onboard and they don’t come back on land for years. If they disagree with the conditions they get thrown off. Sometimes they get left on an isolated island or worse still they just drown.”

“It is aimed at getting people to ask themselves how sustainable or ethical a product is. This is a film that is trying to get you to think about the source of seafood and whether the industry that has provided it is one you should support.”

Sea of Shadows about Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers joining forces to catch the totoaba fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The bladder of the totoaba fish supposedly contains an aphrodisiac but the criminals end up snaring the small vaquita dolphin that is starting to go extinct. There are only a few of them left.”

This year’s festival will feature 65 documentaries and opens at Auckland’s Q Theatre from May 30 – June 9 before moving to Wellington’s Roxy Cinema from June 13- 23.

Newsroom asked Shanan and Lee to pick their own top three films:

DAN SHANAN:

American Factory

Why don't the American and Chinese industries get along? This masterpiece film answers the question. It follows a Chinese billionaire Cao Dewang opening a glass manufacturing company in the former General Motors plant. The new factory creates many jobs, but also cultural friction.

Seahorse: The Man Who Gave Birth

Meet Freddy McConnell, a gay transgender man who decides to carry his own baby. It is an intimate, audacious and lyrical story about conception, pregnancy, birth and what makes us who we are.

Buddy

Acclaimed Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann has developed and refined her style over many documentaries in her 30+ year career. Buddy delivers a poignant and carefully-composed portrait of six service dogs and their companions. It’s a film with a soul.

ALEX LEE:

Ghost Fleet

An important and inspiring social impact film telling the story of one Thai woman’s commitment to bring attention to the plight of and the injustice perpetrated against Thai fishermen who get conned into slavery on the high seas. It calls out the fishing corporations that are supporting the piracy and taking part in the supply of fish by the unlawful practices.

The Men’s Room

A thinking and sensitive men’s film which explores brotherhood and bonding set against the backdrop of a men’s choir specialising in Black Sabbath and rock songs. It makes you laugh, sing and cry as the subjects traverse life and death. A very special film that everyone will enjoy.

Our Time Machine

A love story of a Taiwanese son and father, both renowned theatre directors, as the father finds himself falling into the shadows of Alzheimer’s. The elegant storytelling causes you to invest in the lives of the characters and strikes a universal chord. A moving tribute to love and loss.

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