Film censor orders cuts under animal cruelty law

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The Independent Culture

Film censors have taken the rare step of demanding cuts to an Oscar-nominated movie because of fears that birds were harmed during filming.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) ordered the removal of a scene from Before Night Falls, a drama about the life of the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, before awarding it a 15-certificate.

The ruling makes it the first new film in six years to be penalised under the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act of 1937.

The offending scene shows a prison inmate capturing a bird. It seems to have been lassoed round the neck with a rope tied to the end of a stick.

As it flaps, fighting frantically to escape, it is pulled through a hole in the roof of the cell block. The BBFC says it is evidently distressed.

The American Humane Association (AHA), the US equivalent of the RSPCA, expressed concern. A BBFC spokeswoman said: "The assurances from the trainer/handler of the bird about the way the scene had been filmed were not consistent with what appears on screen. The BBFC, therefore, concluded that the scene should be cut."

Before Night Falls was made by the painter and film maker Julian Schnabel and won a best actor nomination in the Oscars for Javier Bardem, who plays Arenas.

However, the decision comes only weeks after another Oscar-nominated movie, Amores Perros, escaped cuts despite strong protests by the RSPCA.

The film simulates a fight to the death between a rottweiler and a pit bull terrier in a Mexico City gambling den and it had been thought it would fall foul of the law under a section outlawing the goading of animals for the camera.

Yet in that case the board was satisfied no animals were hurt or abused. The RSPCA criticised the ruling, saying it "could contribute to the glamorisation of a horrifically cruel underground activity".

The last new English language film to be cut under this legislation was Run of the Country, starring Albert Finney, in 1995, which contained scenes of cock fighting.

The board more frequently asks for scenes of animal cruelty to be removed from Asian films and videos.