The 2010 Serbian language drama, subtitled in English, tells the story of a retired Serbian porn star, Milos, who is tempted to make one final film by an offer of money from a mysterious director. The film's would-be director, Vukmir Vukmir, tells him that the film is intended as an 'artistic project' made for the foreign market. However, it soon becomes clear that the project will require Milos to perform some degrading, violent and murderous acts.
A Serbian Film was initially submitted to the BBFC for DVD and Blu Ray release on 10 August 2010. At the time, the film was scheduled to be shown at the London Fright Fest on 29 August. Normally, the Fright Fest operates under a special agreement with the local licensing authority, in this case Westminster Council, allowing films that have not yet been classified by the BBFC to be screened without a certificate to an adults-only audience. However, rumours about the film's extreme content had led to Westminster Council receiving complaints about the proposed screening, as a result of which they took the unusual step of directing that the film could only be screened at the festival if it had been classified by the BBFC. The BBFC therefore needed to arrive at a decision on a potentially difficult and controversial film within nineteen days, if the Fright Fest screening was to proceed as planned.
Accordingly, the film was examined for the first time on 13 August. Given the film's reputation and the need to arrive at a decision as soon as possible, the film was viewed by two examiners, plus the two Senior Examiners. Following this, the film was also seen by the BBFC's Head of Policy, the Director, the Vice Presidents and the President. In addition, a further screening was arranged so that other examiners could have an opportunity to see the film and express their views. As is normal with such a contentious feature, there were a range of views expressed about the film and the extent to which it conflicted with the Board's published Guidelines and classification policies.
Ultimately, however, it was concluded that numerous cuts would be required before the film could be classified at 18. The main issues for the BBFC were scenes of sexual and sexualised violence and scenes juxtaposing images of sex and sexual violence with images of children. Although the film makers had clearly taken trouble to avoid exposing any of the young actors to anything disturbing or indecent, and had offered to show the BBFC evidence of the dummy props used in the film's most difficult scenes, the BBFC's Guidelines nonetheless caution that 'portrayals of children in a sexualised or abusive context' may require compulsory cuts.
On 25 August, the BBFC presented the film's distributor with a cuts list. In total, 49 individual cuts were required, across 11 scenes. It was estimated that around three minutes 48 seconds would need to be removed. Although this might seem like a large number of cuts at first, many of the cuts were very small.
Recognising that the film was intended as a political allegory which intended - and needed - to shock as part of its overall thesis, the BBFC attempted to construct the cuts carefully so that the message of the film, as well as the meaning of each individual scene, would be preserved.
However, the extent of the cuts did mean it would be difficult, but not impossible, for the distributor to make the necessary changes and have the film classified in time for the screening on 29 August. In the event, the organisers of the Fright Fest decided they did not wish to screen a censored version of A Serbian Film, even if one could be prepared in time, and the screening was cancelled. Nonetheless, a cut version was prepared and submitted to the BBFC on 21 October. This was checked by BBFC examiners and it was found that all requested cuts had been made although, in a few cases, scenes had been slightly overcut for continuity reasons. This version of the film - which had been cut by a total of four minutes and twelve seconds - met the BBFC's requirements and was classified at 18 without further cuts, on 28 October. Even though the Board's intervention had lessened the impact of certain scenes, the cut version was still strong and disturbing and had the potential to upset and offend some viewers. This was reflected in the strong consumer advice of 'Contains very strong sexual violence, sex and violence'.
In the meantime, the film had been submitted to the BBFC for cinema release on 22 September. Initially, the distributor had hoped the BBFC might require fewer cuts for cinema release. However, the Board concluded that the same concerns applied for theatrical release and a cuts list, mirroring that issued for DVD and Blu-ray release, was issued. The cut version was examined on 23 November 2010 and was classified in the same BBFC-approved cut version on 24 November.
Since then, the BBFC has received correspondence from people who were disappointed that A Serbian Film had been cut, as well as from people who felt it should never have been classified at all. Some viewers of the cut version have written to the BBFC complaining they were disturbed by the cut version and that the BBFC intervention was insufficient. Subsequent attempts to screen the uncut version of the film at various locations around the UK have proven unsuccessful, with a number of local authorities taking Westminster's lead and refusing permission for the uncut version of the film to be shown, most notably in Bournemouth where a proposed screening in October at the Horror Film Festival was blocked. However, a single private screening did occur in London, as part of the Raindance Film Festival, in October 2010. The fact that this was a 'private event', with no admission being charged and to which only invited guests had access, meant that the local council felt it had no authority to prevent the screening taking place. Nonetheless, to date, there has been no public commercial screening of the uncut version of the film in the UK. It is perhaps interesting that concerns about the film have not been limited to the UK, with the film being refused classification in Australia twice, in both an uncut and a cut version, and screenings in Spain being blocked by the courts. It seems that the film will remain controversial around the world for some time to come.