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Showing Films in Primary And Intermediate Schools

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Film classifications

Films in New Zealand fall into two broad categories, restricted and unrestricted films. 

Restricted films
Restricted films carry a red label and are restricted to persons over the age shown on the label e.g. R13 and R16.  Some films carry RP labels (e.g. RP13). RP films may be shown to a person under the age of restriction, provided a parent or guardian (such as a teacher) watches the film with them.  However, the level of offensive language/violence/sex/crime/cruelty or horror in RP films means it is very unlikely that any RP film would be appropriate for primary age children to watch as part of a school programme.

It is an offence for anyone to show a child under the age of restriction a restricted film.  Parents cannot give permission for an underage child to be shown restricted material.  Legal restrictions apply at school, at home and in the cinema and apply equally to films, DVDs and games.

Unrestricted films
Unrestricted films carry ratings and have a green or yellow label. These ratings are consumer advice rather than legal restrictions. Ratings are intended as information to guide consumers and to help parents/teachers wanting to learn about a film’s suitability before allowing children to watch it. There are three unrestricted ratings that may be given to a film:

  • G: intended for general audience (green label)
  • PG: parental guidance recommended (yellow label)
  • M: recommended for mature audiences aged 16 years and over (yellow label).

You should remember that not all G or PG level films are made for children and many are aimed at an adult audience.  Therefore, it is important to be familiar with any film you plan to screen to students.


Descriptive notes

Most film ratings will be accompanied by a descriptive note. This note informs audiences of film content that might be of concern. Adults are strongly advised to take these notes into consideration when choosing a film for children to watch. G rated films will generally not have a note, as these films should not have content of concern. It is a legal requirement that film advertising includes the applicable descriptive note. The most common descriptive notes on unrestricted films are:

  • violence
  • sexual themes or references
  • offensive language
  •  some scenes may disturb younger children

When looking at a descriptive note it is important to consider it in light of the rating of the film concerned. For example the level of violence in a ‘PG Contains violence’ film will be lower than that in an ‘M Contains violence’ film.


Choosing a film for students

Legally, primary aged students can be shown any unrestricted film. Films carrying G certificates, and that are specifically intended for a young audience, should be suitable for primary age children.

There are wide variations in the level of material in both PG and M films. For example the PG films Monsters v Aliens and Spiderwick Chronicles were at different ends of the PG spectrum. Similarly, the films Prince Caspian, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Batman film The Dark Knight were rated M and had warnings about violent content, yet they were very different films.

In addition, many unrestricted films are not aimed at a young audience and have been made to be watched by adults or older teens. Examples of these types of films are: The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (M), Valkyrie (M), Defiance (M), Calendar Girls (PG), Waking Ned Devine (PG).

When deciding on a film for students to watch, schools should always consider the following:

  • Is the film appropriate to the audience – both in age and in interest? Look at the rating and the descriptive note and consider the plot and any reviews available.
  • Does the effect of the film differ whether it is shown in a cinema or in the classroom? (Children can leave, or the film can be stopped in a classroom. This is not the case in a cinema. In addition, the impact of the film on a large screen with surround sound is different from that on a TV/data projector.)
  • Are there any copyright issues that need to be considered before showing a film in school?

Useful sources of information on films are:

  • Information on the legal requirements of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 from or Freephone 0508 CENSOR (0508 236 767).
  • Film and Video Labelling Body website: provides the ratings and descriptive notes for films/DVDs available in NZ.
  • Copyright information can be obtained from NZFA©T 0800 267 964
  • Internet Movie Database: This site contains plot summaries on most films.  It also has a ‘parents’ guide’ for many films. The parents’ guide details any scenes in films which might be of concern to parents and gives a very good indication of levels of language, violence, nudity etc. This website is written by film-goers rather than industry/government groups.


School Policies and Procedures

Schools may wish to develop their own policies about which films can be shown to students.  They may also wish to seek parental permission before showing any film, regardless of its rating.



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