Axelle Carolyn on Soulmate and the BBFC

Axelle Carolyn‘s feature film début, Soulmate, is unfortunately going to be cut for its UK release, following a BBFC judgment on its opening scene.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the British Board of Film Classification, what this means is that the uncut version of Carolyn’s film cannot now be sold in a physical format anywhere in the UK, and any if any cinema wanted to screen the full version – which won’t be made available now in any case – they’d need special dispensation from their local council. Carolyn’s preferred edit, the complete version of the film, has essentially been banned.

But unlike many recent examples of titles rejected by the BBFC, such as The Human Centipede 2 and The Bunny Game, we’re told that Soulmate is not a gory or particularly violent picture, and following the removal of this opening sequence it has merited only a 15 certificate.

I reached out to Carolyn for comment regarding the situation. She started by telling me how she found out about the BBFC’s decision.

Axelle Carolyn: Soda Pictures submitted the film about a month ago and the answer came back pretty quickly that the film would be banned unless we made some substantial cuts to the opening scene, in which our main character, Audrey, attempts to kill herself.

The decision was justified under ‘imitable behavior’, meaning that the scene could inform people as to how to kill themselves. Which is absurd, given that we found that info ourselves online – the info is out there, you don’t need my movie to find it.

I have been keeping a weather eye on the BBFC’s decisions and have become increasingly troubled by their policies regarding “imitable behaviour” and supposed issues of potential “harm.”

Their classification guidelines are available online and make reference to their approach to harm and imitable behaviour on page 3. Their clear concern, it seems, is in regard to viewers copying what they see.

Elsewhere on the BBFC’s website they also state the following,

Portrayals of potentially dangerous behaviour (especially relating to hanging, suicide and self-harm) which children and young people are likely to copy, will be cut if a more restrictive age rating is not appropriate.

It is specifically this attitude from the BBFC which has led to the cutting of Soulmate,

Axelle Carolyn: What ticked off the BBFC is the fact that we show our character slit her wrists vertically – because it’s known to be more often fatal than horizontally. The suicide attempt in the film fails, but it was important to show that Audrey really meant to kill herself, not just call for attention. When we meet her, she’s hit rock bottom and the movie is her journey toward finding a purpose to life again. The general tone of the film is very much anti-suicide.

The decision came as a shock because the film is, essentially, a Gothic drama. There’s a ghost, but very little gore and the scares are pretty mild, more psychological than graphic, really.

I wanted the opening scene to be as realistic as possible without dwelling on the blood. I felt the most responsible way to depict suicide was to make it painful and ugly, and completely the opposite of the romanticized version you often come across in movies. Strangely, it seems it’s that prettified, watered down version the BBFC finds less imitable.

We appealed, mentioning another film which showed the same method in similar details, but they rejected the appeal, saying that they took into consideration circumstances such as the outcome of the suicide attempt, and the potential audience for the movie. The fact that this film is mainly aimed at women makes me wonder if they consider women to be more influenceable…?

The BBFC’s decision is clearly something that Carolyn has had to wrestle with, and I certainly fail to comprehend it fully myself.

I have previously written at length about the BBFC’s attitudes towards harm and the flawed research that they have used to support this approach. I’ve yet to see any scientific research that supports the cuts and classifications that they make in this area.

In two recent Twitter Q&As the BBFC have broached this subject and their responses are incredibly worrying,

research & expert opinion on issues of harm can be inconclusive or contradictory so we must rely on our own experience & expertise (29th April, 2014)

Research is often contested so we rely on experience & public opinion about what might be harmful (28th May, 2014)

These are dangerous approaches for a body issuing compulsory judgments. It’s really not too out of step with the BBFC’s behaviour in the dark days of video nasties, where decisions were made based on what the examiners personally considered best, subjectively, and not derived from any kind of provable, objective grounding.

But where does all of this leave Carolyn and her film?

Axelle Carolyn: We could have released the scene with the cuts required – 16 seconds out of a 2min33 scene – but it was really mangled. I felt it would be better to leave the scene out entirely and let the audience pick up on what happened – Audrey wears bandages around her wrists, and she talks about it later on – rather than start with something that lacked impact or gave the impression that she was just calling for attention.

One area in which the BBFC still has little or no influence is online, despite recent attempts to classify download and streamable content. I asked Carolyn if we would be seeing the contested scene online.

Soulmate CoverAxelle Carolyn: Yes, the scene will definitely be online. Not sure where yet but the movie gets released August 11 so I have time to figure it out. I don’t think there’ll be an uncut version online, but that’s up to Soda really.

Those who live in the UK will hopefully be able to purchase the DVD of Soulmate and include the scene themselves, in a fashion, by watching it online first. This is hardly ideal, of course, and also a rather absurd situation. I’m sure you’ll agree that this ‘patchworking’ won’t do the integrity of the film and Carolyn’s artistic intent any favours.

Those living outside the UK who don’t choose to import Soda’s disc will most likely have to wait a little longer to to wait for Soulmate. When it comes along, however, there is a good chance that they’ll see it uncut. I asked Carolyn about distribution outside of the UK and whether anything had been confirmed yet.

Axelle Carolyn: Not yet. But I’m confident that it will soon. In the meantime though, I’d like to say that the DVD Soda are releasing in the UK is pretty awesome. They’ve done a great job gathering special features et cetera, and I can’t wait to get a copy myself.

Thanks to Axelle Carolyn for taking the time to answer our questions. Soulmate will be released in the UK on the 11th of August and is available to pre-order now.