Tuesday, January 5, 2010

“This Film Is Not Yet Rated”

It takes a certain amount of courage for a filmmaker to take on a powerful institution. Think of Michael Moore and his documentaries that ridicule GM (“Roger and Me”), the Bush administration (“Fahrenheit 9/11”) or the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare system (“Sicko”). But in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” Kirby Dick pokes a finger in the eye of an authority far more closer to home, at least for a filmmaker – the MPAA ratings board. Like many in the movie-gong public, he’d like to know how the Board comes up with its ratings. Why do movies that feature copious amounts of violence get “R” ratings while movies with nudity or sex (that are clearly not pornographic) receive an NC-17? So Dick goes about finding out. This is more than a matter of making a simple phone call. The MPAA works under an air of secrecy worthy of a military intelligence operation. When the polite methods won’t work, Dick becomes inventive – hires a private detective, sorts through trash, uses hidden cameras – and he chronicles everything. He also interviews filmmakers who’ve “suffered” at the hands of the MPAA, including John Waters, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone and Atom Egoyan, as well as some former members of the Board, who I assume will now be unable to get tables at posh restaurants in L.A. The story that Dick pieces together is surprising, but not shocking. The Board members (yes, he finally identifies them all) are promoted by the MPAA as parents of children aged 5-17, yet most are not. The big studios who fund the MPAA get preferential treatment, while indie filmmakers are often left on their own. And the MPAA, who professes to support a filmmaker’s freedom of expression, is a de facto censor because an NC-17 rating will close off various distribution and marketing channels. But “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” gets really interesting when Dick submits his film to the MPAA for a rating (an NC-17, of course). He presses them for an explanation and specifics, and receives a couple of unfriendly phone calls from their representatives, including an MPAA attorney who threatens to “Cut him off.” Now for a filmmaker, that’s pretty courageous. My tweet: This Film Is Not Yet Rated-Kirby Dick investigates the “even when you win, you lose” paradox by taking on the MPAA ratings Star Chamber. 7.5 (out of 10)

“This Film Is Not Yet Rated”

Released: 2005

Rating: NR

Length: 97 minutes

Cast: John Waters, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Kimberly Peirce

Director: Kirby Dick

Genre(s): Documentary, Interview

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