For her debut feature film, director Prano Bailey-Bond turned her creative eye to the 1980s and the boom of low-budget horror produced in the United Kingdom that went straight to home video. Those gory and boundary-pushing films caused a wave of undue panic in England as political leaders worried about the effect such uncensored material could have on audiences. As a result, film censors were responsible for making sure the “video nasty” movies — as the features became known — adhered to some level of mandated censorship.
“I’m a massive fan of films from that period. I kind of grew up obsessing over the ‘Evil Dead’ which was one of the films that was problematic over here in the U.K. at that time,” Bailey-Bond says in a new interview at the Gold Derby Virtual Sundance Studio. “It was just such a fascinating period from U.K. history in terms of the reaction to these films. The papers and the MPs over here thought these films would turn us all into murderers and poison the minds of society. There was a huge level of moral panic and social hysteria over these films which was essentially over the birth of VHS.”
She adds, “The first idea I had was what if a censor started to believe these films were affecting them. If they really believed in censorship then what would happen if a censor believed that so much they thought it was going to affect their own brains.”
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From there, “Censor” was born. The new film, which debuts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, focuses on a troubled film censor named Enid (Niamh Algar) who confronts a past childhood trauma as her reality becomes consumed by the horror films she watches for work — which Bailey-Bond recreated for her film in painstaking detail.
“The conversations I was having with my DP at the beginning, we were looking at films that were shot in the ’80s and contemporary films that were set in the ’80s. We made the decision to shoot on 35mm because we felt that was the most authentic look,” she says. “We talked a lot about format and texture because obviously this is about VHS as well and there’s a lot of VHS texture in there. The approach to the ’80s real world I was looking at a lot of ’80s photographs.”
As for the films within the films, she says, “I was just breaking down the approach to those films — what makes them what they are but also trying not to parody them because it felt really important that those don’t pull us out of Enid’s story. That we can enjoy them and indulge in this luscious world but we’re not pushed away from it and laughing at it.”
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