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Op Ed: Pushing Back Censorship: My Fight with Vimeo’s Content Policy

For the past decade, Vimeo has been the go-to platform for filmmakers to release their films online. Their partnership with prestigious film festivals like SXSW, Annecy Festival, and sponsorship of cash prizes solidified their support to independent filmmakers.

As a beneficiary of its staff pick program, I can also attest to the positive exposure it has had on my portfolio. However, my recent unpleasant experience with Vimeo has led me to question the platform’s commitment to supporting independent filmmakers.

In 2020, I created the animated short Fruit. After premiering in the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the film garnered attention at prestigious film festivals globally, winning an audience choice award at the Fantasia Festival and Vienna Shorts. It even acquired and broadcasted nationally in France and Germany through Arte.

I decided to share my film on Vimeo after its successful festival run. To my surprise, it was flagged as inappropriate and removed without prior warning. Vimeo’s Trust and Safety team (T&S) cited my film’s “overtly sexualized depictions of nudity and sexual activity” as the reason for the removal.

This explanation confused me, Vimeo had been historically supportive of bold and expressive art that was unavailable on platforms like YouTube. According to their own policy guideline. Depictions of nudity and sexuality that serve a clear creative, artistic, aesthetic, or narrative purpose” should be allowed. My film has been screened in multiple BAFTA and Oscar-qualifying festivals such as Annecy, and the London International Short Film Festival. Some of these events had even partnered with Vimeo before. My screening should justify my film as a work of “cinematic art” and, therefore be allowed on this platform.

Furthermore, this film was broadcast in France on May 27, 2022, at 11:55 p.m., as part of the program Court-Circuit: Spécial sexe et tabou. Meeting the standards set by the country’s Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (ARCOM). Given that a national censorship board approved the film’s television broadcast, what is T&S adamancy on its removal?

Below: Official Facebook post from ARTE, announcing my film’s slot

 

Many of my peers had released works with arguably more explicit content and had encountered no issues. Work such as SXSW-winning Cipka/Pussy by Renata Gąsiorowska, include an anatomically precise animation depicting a woman’s self-pleasure and close-up shots of her vulva.; the music video “Watsky- Going Down” showcases live-action scenes with full-body nudity featuring adult film star Riley Reid in multiple angles; while the lyrics exalt the pleasures of oral intimacy. These works remain accessible on Vimeo, and are also selected as a “staff pick”; What distinguishes the approach to our work?

When I shared this information with the T&S in my appeal, they expressed no interest in reviewing them and insisted that my film must be deleted due to policy violation.

What happened, Vimeo? 

Over the last few years, Vimeo has been publicly announcing its shift to B2B solutions with a specific focus on corporate users. I would not be surprised if this shift leads to a more stringent enforcement of the platform’s content guidelines.

Comparatively, YouTube seems to be much more open-minded lately. Maya Hawke’s music video “Thérèse,” which features live-action depictions of nudity and group sex, is still up and available on its platform. When I tried uploading my film on YouTube back in 2020, its content detection algorithm promptly removed it. However, when re-uploading it last month, the film remains accessible as of today. 

Some had suggested I fully abandon Vimeo and move to a different platform, While this is not a bad idea, I don’t agree with it. Despite its imperfections, Vimeo maintains its position as the largest and most prominent platform for cinematic and independent short-form content.

Their artistic curation team are some of the most supportive professionals I’ve worked with (The curation team is not associated with T&S, they tried internally appealing my film but have no influence over T&S’s decision.)

As a filmmaker who simply wants to make silly fun content. My hope is that my experience serves as an open dialogue about content moderation policies and the evolving landscape of platforms like Vimeo. After all, this is not just about my film,  it’s about the broader issues surrounding artistic expression, fairness in content moderation, and the future of independent filmmaking in a changing digital world.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ivan Li is a multi-media creator. A graduate from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Li’s short Finding Uranus won the Best Canadian Student Animation and a special jury mention for Best Canadian Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 2019.

 

 

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