“You can die for your country, but God forbid you watch a movie” – Interview with James Cullen Bressack

It must be a strange sensation to make a movie only to have it banned. You put everything into making a film, only to be told that it will not be released. While this is happening less here in the UK, it does still happen occasionally. It happened to Nick Palumbo with Murder-Set-Pieces, who said: “The BBFC decided to ban my film so I go straight to the peeps.”  It also happened with Tom Six’s Human Centipede II, although this was released with cuts. The most recent film to be banned in the UK is Hate Crime, directed by Los Angeles based James Cullen Bressack. It is a very hard watch, which the BBFC said “focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective”.

To begin with, what were James’ thoughts on having the film banned? He said: “I find it slightly amusing. I know when it happened, I said I was honoured and shocked by it and I stand by that. I find it ridiculous that censorship exists at all. Who thinks they can tell an adult what they can and can not watch? You have to be 18 to join the military, so you can die for your country, but God forbid you watch a movie. It is so ridiculous. It is kind of a badge of “hey, my movie is super crazy”, but it is not going to stop people from watching. It is ridiculous that somebody is trying to regulate what people watch.”

image credit: Twitter @JamesCullenB
image credit: Twitter @JamesCullenB

James’ point of being allowed to join the military, where you may be exposed to some truly horrific sights, but not being allowed to watch a movie is fair. Regarding whether he believed the film would be objectionable or problematic, James said: “No. I knew it was going to be a crazy movie, but I did not have a budget when I made this movie. I made this movie many years ago. It was my second movie I ever made. I have made 14 films now. We did not have a budget, so everything was sort of implied or off camera, so you did not quite see it. You just hear about it off camera. It is the power of imagination.”

With a film like this, it is prudent to ask whether there was a message James was trying to convey with it, or whether it came from any personal experience. He said: “Yeah, I think we are seeing that message came to fruition now within the US, with the rise in hate groups. I was trying to convey that this sort of thing still exists in our world. People have been turning a blind eye to it and I think we just saw the culmination of that. I am Jewish myself, so I was just trying to illuminate that but for some reason, people just did not want to hear it. But now, it is blatantly in front of people and they still do not want to hear it. This is how Hitler rose to power.

“Me and my writing partner on the film were on our way to a film festival in Oklahoma and stopped off at a bar in Texas. We were immediately accosted by a group of Neo-Nazis for being Jewish. They were saying stuff like “you’re a Jew, ain’t you boy. Where’s your horns at?” It was a scary experience. It was just about taking that thought process to a more extreme level.” Unfortunately, with the rise of right wing rhetoric throughout the globe, stories like this are not surprising and maybe it would have taken something like Hate Crime to shine that light on it for some people to really take notice. That is up for debate.

When the BBFC decided to ban the movie, they announced that no amount of cuts would make the film passable. On remembering this, James said: “I remember when I got the phone call, I started laughing as it was so ridiculous. The movie was released out in the US in 2012, which means it took nearly 4 years to find distribution in the UK because every distributor was afraid it was going to get banned. A distributor picked it up, paid for the classification and then we ended up getting banned. So I thought it was a possibility, but after the fiasco with Human Centipede II, I did not think they were going to continue banning stuff.”

The comparison to Human Centipede II is a good one, as when that was banned, the BBFC again said that no amount of cuts would make the film passable, but then only four days later, passed a version with over two minutes of cuts. With Hate Crime, it would have been harder because, as James says, “the whole movie is made to look like one complete shot, so if I cut it, it would ruin the whole style of the film, so I did not.”

Hate Crime poster

When a film is banned and a director has to accept a film they have made not being released, it could shape their future content. On this, James said: “Since that movie, I have not really been making extreme movies. That was my most extreme film and since then I have toned it down a bit.  I am doing an animated kids movie right now and I just did a movie for Lifetime. I am moving towards more accessible stuff for the general public but I do not think the ban decision had anything to do with that. I feel like I did what I could within that genre of shocking movies. That is the highest honour of shocking movies, in that you ban someone. What am I going to do? Make another movie that gets banned somewhere? Then I am just the guy who makes banned movies.”

Finally, despite the banning, James mentioned how the UK has always been receptive to his work. He said: “The very interesting thing I would say is that I am very active on Twitter and I have always had a really strong UK fan-base, even before the banning.  I played a couple of UK film festivals and actually Hate Crime played at Grimmfest in Manchester in 2012. I think UK film fans are really supportive of indie horror so I am very much appreciative to the UK film fan base.”

Whether you like Hate Crime or not, the way that James has maturely handled the situation and not let it hinder his career has to be admired. For that, all that can really be said is good luck to him with the rest of his career.




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