Content Warning: The following article contains references to child sexual abuse.
The Melbourne International Film Festival has removed from its virtual 2020 program a film which was criticised by psychologists for its implicit depiction of an android child having sex with its human “father”.
The Trouble With Being Born, directed by Austrian Sandra Wollner, is a science fiction film which a short bio says is about “an android who was built by a father as a replicate of his young daughter, who disappeared years earlier”.
The android child is played by a 10-year-old actress, known under the pseudonym of Lena Watson. In the film, she wears a silicone mask and wig to protect her identity.
NME Australia has not seen the film, but understands the sexual nature of the relationship between the father and child is heavily implied, based on a Variety review from its debut at the Berlin Film Festival in February. There, the film prompted walkouts, but won a Special Jury prize.
MIFF pulled the film after newspaper The Age, which sought opinions from forensic psychologists Dr Karen Owen and Dr Georgina O’Donnell on the film, supplied the festival with their critical comments.
Dr Owen said the film’s subject matter “normalises sexual interest in children” and would likely be “used… for arousal and masturbatory purposes”.
MIFF released a statement this morning (July 31). “The safety and wellbeing of the MIFF community and broader Australian public is of paramount concern to the festival,” it wrote.
“With this in mind, we have made the decision to withdraw Sandra Wollner’s film The Trouble with Being Born. While the Australian Classification Board had cleared the film to screen in this year’s festival, after receiving specific, expert advice — in relation to both the content within the film and the online context of MIFF 68½ — we have made the decision to remove the film.” See the festival’s statement below:
The safety and wellbeing of the MIFF community and broader Australian public is of paramount concern to the festival. …
In a statement to The Age, Wollner defended the film and pointed to the measures taken to protect the child actress, including the fake name, wig and silicone mask. Wollner also said a psychologist focused on childhood trauma assisted her in directing the child actress, and offered appropriate language to use in explaining the situations to the actress.
“We strongly believe there is room for this kind of dealing with the world and that art, by its very nature, has to arouse uncomfortable questions. The film is in no way endorsing or promoting child exploitation, but looking at a suggested dystopia, some elements of which are already discernible in our present reality,” Wollner said.
MIFF’s 68 1/2 virtual edition, first announced in May, kicks off next week on August 6, running until August 23. The festival announced its virtual program earlier this month.