The Censorship Procedure in Austria, the Czechoslovak Republic and Germany (1920-1933) Censorship Regulations in the Republic of Weimar Czechoslovakia Austria

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Censorship Regulations

The Censorship Procedure in Austria, the Czechoslovak Republic and Germany

Research in the domain of film censorship has been done mainly on the national level and there is a lack of comparative analysis of film censorship across countries.

For COLLATE the film archives DIF, FAA and NFA carried out some preliminary research in order to find out about similarities and differences concerning the three countries involved so far. These studies provided background information and a common basis for discussion. They were at the same time starting point and precondition for collaborative work in COLLATE.

The censorship documents vary in Austria, the Czechoslovak Republic and Germany. Therefore it was quite important to know more about the significance of the available document types and their interrelationships in the three countries. In this section, we provide an overview of the censorship proceedings in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany on the basis of their censorship documents. Moreover, we outline the status, the similarities and differences between the most important censorship documents in the three countries.

The following section will then give more in-depth information about censorship regulations within the countries.

1. Application Form for Permission

First Application
In Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany there was a similar procedure: Before distribution and public screening, the production company (or the importers of foreign productions) had to submit each film for approval by the censorship authorities. The result of this application was an examination by the respective censorship office.

In Austria and Germany the application form is a single document. In the Czechoslovak Republic the application form was part (the first page) of a "censorship file", in which different document types were put together: The left half on the second page was reserved for a film synopsis and the right one contained the data on the screening for the censorship authority and the results of the examination. The third page was assigned mostly for fee statements. A documentation of the assessment was also part of the file: a single blank where the members of the consultative censor committee expressed their opinion by signature into a field labelled “full permission”, “ban for young people”, “interdiction”.

Repeated Application
For different reasons a film often was submitted more than once. If a film was banned or partly banned in Austria, in Germany and in Czechoslovakia, it was possible to apply for an examination again. The film versions often varied, but did not necessarily have to. The document type is in Austria and in Germany the same as "first application" and in the Czechoslovakian Republic it is a different one.

In the Czechoslovak Republic most of these repeated censorship processes were initiated by the applicant as an appeal in the form of a letter. In such a case the censorship authorities had a specific "censorship file for repeated application", that was similar to the "censorship file for first application". The most important difference is that the reasons for the recommendation of the Extended Censor Advisory Board and for the ruling of the Ministry of Interior for ban or for permit could be written down in this file. In the Czechoslovak Republic it was also necessary to renew the permission after five years. In this case, the same cover of the application form for repeated application was used.

The Czech censorship documents had a special characteristic: All the material about the assessment of a certain film (all these different "censorship files") was mostly put together in one major folder.

The application form can be a source for the following information:
Name of applicant (production or distribution company), title of the film, year of production, length before censorship, brief content, information about earlier examinations, etc.

Accompanying documents are usually:
- list of intertitles / dialogue list
- certification of the production country

2. Censorship decision

Decision whether a film could or could not – and in which version – be distributed and shown throughout a country.
This type of document is available for Germany and was valid for the whole territory of the Weimar Republic. The censorship decision (Zensurentscheidung) was often the minutes of the examination meeting and was issued by the Censorship Office or Headquarters. This document also explained (sometimes in great detail) the reasons for permission, shortage, restrictions or prohibition of a film. Most of the existing censorship decisions were from the "Film-Oberprüfstelle", the Censorship Headquarters in Berlin. They constitute a great deal of the material provided by DIF.
The censorship decisions can be a source of the following information: information on film title, participants of the examination, notices on content, legal references, legal motivation, conditions for permission (for example cuts, change of title, etc.), reference of precedent decisions, costs for the procedure.
In the Czechoslovak Republic the ruling of the Ministry of Interior (sometimes with explanations) could be written down on the censorship file for repeated application.

3. Expert statement

The expert statement (mainly available from Austria) was often very important for the examination. It was a recommendation for a decision and sometimes provided an explanation. One can thus understand which interest groups (political institutions, church, military) exerted an influence on censorship procedures.

In Austria, the Ministry of Education made suggestions concerning the suitability of films for youth. In these cases, the expert statement was the minutes of the examination.

Because the Ministry of Interior made the final decision in the Czechoslovak Republic, the members of the consultative censor committee had expert status. They expressed their opinion by signature into the respective field of the single blank (part of the censorship file for first application; see above). In the case of repeated examination after ban, this document showed who took part in the extended censorship committee, their final recommendation and even the reasons (second page of the censorship file for repeated application).

In Germany the censorship authorities normally invited experts for the examination meeting and their statements were recorded in the censorship decisions. For this reason, the expert statement as a separate document is rare.

4. Registration card

If the producer (or distributor) was given permission to show a film, the censorship authorities issued a "registration card", a certificate proving that the film had been approved for exhibition in the present version.

In the Czechoslovak Republic and in Germany the registration card had the status of certification for permission that was valid in the whole country. In the Czechoslovak Republic the new registration card had to be issued if the columns for the stamps of supervising authorities (mostly local police departments) were filled in. However the censorship permission was valid for five years.

Because censorship was officially abrogated (June 1926), the status of the registration card in Austria is different. Before 1935 it is only a confirmation that the film was projected for the municipal authorities from Vienna and did not include the official permission to show the film in the rest of Austria. Moreover, in some of the Austrian provinces independent censorship offices existed.

The registration card is a very important source for film reconstruction and could be a source for the following information: film title, production company; result, date and number of examination; predicates (important for tax exemption), length (after censoring), number of acts, brief content or titles links or dialogues, forbidden parts, silent movie or sound film, staff.

5. Index of evaluated films

Censorship institutions published film titles and the results of the censorship procedure (permitted / forbidden) in magazines and books or as a list. Many films were censored for different reasons more than once. The indices and lists are a source necessary to reconstruct the censorship history of a film. Even if there is no other document preserved you may find the information (film title, date and number of examination, decision) in these lists.

In Austria different types of lists of permitted films are relevant: "Paimanns Filmlisten" as well as lists from the Ministry of Education or from the provincial states and in addition lists by local police authorities.

In the Czechoslovak Republic the censorship results were published in the "Bulletin of the Ministry of Interior".

In Germany a list of examined films (a single publication called "Zensurliste") was published once a week.


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