Two men kissing on a film festival poster was too confronting for some in the northern capital. Is Brisbane regaining its reputation as “censorship city”?
That’s what Andrew Ross reckons. The former artistic director of the Brisbane Powerhouse arts centre, and one of the arts leaders who worked with the former Labor government in building Queensland’s reputation as a cultural centre in the previous decade, says the state is now going backwards.
“I have been away from Brisbane for a year and returned expecting to find myself in 2014 not some era pre-1953,” Ross said.
Powerhouse management endorsed a decision by Brisbane City Council’s “lifestyle chairman” Krista Adams to pulp promotional material — showing two men embracing in the surf in a parody of the 1953 film From Here to Eternity (pictured) — for the upcoming Brisbane Queer Film Festival at the riverside arts house. Adams branded the poster “too confronting” and has banned it pending an Advertising Standards Board review.
Current Brisbane Powerhouse artistic director Kris Stewart defends Adams’ decision, saying it’s the “very sexualised image” that caused concern. “The decision would have been the same whether it was two men or a man and a woman,” Stewart told Fairfax’s Brisbane Times on Friday.
Ross — who hasn’t commented on the Powerhouse since he departed as its director in 2012 — reluctantly told Crikey’s Daily Review: “I do believe that if the arts are to contribute anything worthwhile to our lives then they must be the subject of public conversations and those who hold positions of power must be subjected to public scrutiny.
“In Queensland where serving fizzy drinks at kid’s sporting events is a human rights issue, the removal of a poster by decree is surely worthy of some public attention. The occasional bad review is better than no reviews at all.”
The controversy comes hot on the heels of the Queensland Theatre Company line-cutting debacle . Ross said the the latest intervention promises to unfold with the same degree of “dissembling ineptitude”.
“Again we see the artistic director carrying the can while those he reports to scramble to keep their fragile reputations intact. The result is the same: the company becomes a national laughing stock. Like [former QTC artistic director] Michael Gow, I was distressed to see an organisation that had once been a big part of my life brought into disrepute,” Ross said.
In defending the removal of the poster, Stewart says the Brisbane City Council has been “more supportive of the gay community than any of its predecessors, both financially and with the public support of queer events and activities”. Ross points out it is the Brisbane Queer Film Festival that has returned a surplus to the Brisbane Powerhouse “for several years”.
The Powerhouse’s charter states it should operate at arm’s length from the council through a board appointed by the lord mayor, with the CEO reporting to the board. “Councillors have, in the past at least, played no role in programming choices, let alone the choice of images in marketing campaigns,” Ross said.
“When the QTC censorship story broke there was a laughable attempt to spin the line cut as a normal part of the dramaturgical process, inferring it had nothing to do with the fact that the line referred to the Queensland Premier. Now Brisbane Powerhouse is trying to sell us the idea that the ban is because the image is highly sexualised and has nothing to do with the fact that the embrace in the surf is between two men. Are we to presume then that a poster of the original image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr would also be too sexualised for the bus shelters of Brisbane?
“I wandered into the CBD today and found no images of lovers embracing in the surf, just banners proclaiming ‘give me Brisbane any day’ — a statement that affirms that Brisbane is not only a city that tolerates the second rate but celebrates it.”
Daily Review sought comment from Brisbane Powerhouse management but did not receive a response in time for publication.