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Venezuela: Judge issues nationwide ban on film about boxer

20 January 2017

A Caracas Children and Teenagers Protection Court judge, Salvador Mata García, issued a nationwide ban on film ‘El Inca’, based on the life of boxer Edwin “El Inca” Valero, as a preliminary measure in response to a complaint by the boxer’s family, reported El País on 25 December 2016.

The ban includes the movie’s screening, its advertising of any kind and through any medium, and the destruction of the cinema copies of the film; the master copy was to be surrendered to the court.

The complaint, presented by Valero’s mother and two of his siblings, invokes the late boxer’s constitutional right to honour, as well as that of the family. It also demands that their right to privacy is respected.

The measure was justified, in the ruling, by invoking the Constitution and Organic Law for the Protection of Children and Teenagers. By screening the movie, the family alleged, Valero’s children would be negatively affected emotionally and socially.


Director disagrees with decision
The movie, directed by Ignacio Castillo Cottin, premiered on 25 November 2016 and was doing well, until it was removed from all cinemas nearly three weeks later on 14 December 2016. The director maintains that he is not attacking anyone’s privacy or honour.

“Our audiovisual production is an artistic work based on a public figure and notorious events, his life was documented and different versions of it have been reviewed. ‘El Inca’ is an interpretation of this story, in which its author, exercising his right to freedom of expression, has presented his view on the issue.” Castillo Cottin and film producer Nathalie Sar-Shalom stated in a press release.

Oswaldo Cali, the producer’s lawyer, reckons it was not only showing the boxer’s dark side that triggered the ban. Valero was a lively supporter of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, whose face he had tattooed on his chest. Chávez had invited Valero to his own TV show and labelled him an iconic revolutionary sportsman.

“In Venezuela, justice is not independent, there are signs of a political component in the film’s censorship,” Cali said.

The director of the film is the son of well-known opposition journalist Leopoldo Castillo, who is living in exile in Miami.


Family’s varied attempts to stop production
The boxer’s family had been in touch with the producers at the beginning of the project, but after their request to have one of Valero’s brothers play him in the film was turned down, the relationship spiralled to a point where communication ceased between the two parties.

At that point, the family issued a video statement on YouTube demanding President Nicolás Maduro to do something to stop the film from seeing light, as they claimed it was “loaded with lies”. When that tactic failed, the family tried to sue the producers over intellectual property, which also failed given the public nature of the facts upon which the movie is based. After that they filed a complaint citing constitutional rights to honour and privacy.

“My brother’s children endured a very harsh trauma when their parents died and now they’ll go through an even worse one when this film is displayed.” said Edwar Valero, brother of the late boxer. “It’s only fair that they’d give them economic support at least, because they need it really badly, since they haven’t got any assistance.”

UPDATE: Judge Salvador Mata García ruled on the constitutional appeal by lifting the ban on ‘El Inca’, subject to the removal and editing of some scenes, reported Diario 2001 on 23 January 2017.

The film’s producers stated that this measure:

…ratifies the measure of prior censorship, despite it being expressly prohibited in the Venezuelan Constitution and the international human rights treaties. Besides, the right to freedom of expression and creation is also violated, pretending to monopolize the stories that Venezuelans tell and watch, depriving the healthy debate of ideas and imposing a sole version of the facts. With this decision, judges can modify artistic works to their liking; a fatal precedent for creators, scriptwriters, and writers of the country.

On the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Venezuelan cinema industry, and driven by the need to prevent the usage of the ‘El Inca’ censorship as a precedent, the National Assembly (with the absence of Chavist members of parliament) unanimously approved an agreement condemning the censorship imposed by the government and judiciary on “cultural expressions and media”, reported El Cooperante on 7 February 2017.

This agreement also committed to the adoption of steps to eliminate prior censorship.

Member of Parliament Elimar Díaz, chairwoman of the Permanent Commission of Culture and Leisure to the National Assembly, said in regards to the censorship of ‘El Inca’ that “this decision of Judge Salvador Mata García violates the fundamental right to culture due to the prior censorship that is executed; on top of that, it harms the right of all citizens to access cultural creations, which let it be said, are enshrined in the Constitution”, reported Sunoticiero on 7 February 2017.

The movie, however, was banned again after the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court on 15 June 2017 imposed the same preliminary measure that the previous court had decided upon, while awaiting trial. This comes in response to an appeal initiated by the late boxer’s mother, which elevated the case to the Supreme Court, reported CNN.



Past film censorship in Venezuela
Despite the producers’ claims, this is not the first case of censorship in Venezuela’s film industry. The most notorious case prior to ‘El Inca’ was that of Luis Correa’s 1981 film ‘Ledezma, el caso Mamera’ (Ledezma, the Mamera case). The film portrayed a fictional account of a real crime committed by a metropolitan police officer in the country.

Because of the nature of the film, the director was imprisoned on charges of “connivance by expressing approval of a criminal act”. The film was also banned from public display.

Most recently, in 2005, the movie ‘Secuestro Express’ (Express Kidnapping) triggered two trials, one against the movie and another against its director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, who was facing a six to ten-year prison sentence. Jakubowicz told newspaper El Nacional that Hugo Chávez suggested, in his January 2006 speech at the National Assembly, that he should be investigated for “offending the Armed Forces”, given he displayed an homosexual soldier in his film.


Photo: Pa’los Panas Producciones Facebook page


Sources

» Venezuelan National Assembly – 7 February 2017
Agreement against censorship and in defense of free thought in the framework of the 120th anniversary of the national cinema

» El Cooperante – 7 February 2017
“Democracy is freedom”: MPs reject censorship against film ‘El Inca’

» Sunoticiero.com – 7 February 2017
Elimar Díaz: “censorship tarnishes the 120 years of Venezuelan cinema”

» Diario 2001 – 23 January 2017
Censorship to film ‘El Inca’ lifted conditionally to the editing of some scenes

» Teletica.com – 29 December 2016
Polemic chases mythic Venezuelan boxer even after his death

» El País – 25 December 2016
Venezuela censors movie about the life of boxer Inca Valero

» El Nacional – 17 December 2016
Ignacio Castillo Cottin: “They did not give us time to defend ourselves”

» Espacio Público – 16 December 2016
Court censors Venezuelan film about boxer Edwin “El Inca” Valero

» Twitter – 15 December 2016
Pa’los Panas Productions’ press release

» El Universal – 22 November 2016
“El Inca” relatives reject film about the Venezuelan boxer

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