Everyone knows that the Motion Picture Association of America rates Hollywood movies as G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 – but what they don't know are which people do the ratings, how those people are chosen, and what criteria are used in deciding which rating to give.
A new documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Kirby Dick, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, will answer some of those questions, and attendees at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah, will see the story first. The film is also scheduled to run on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) the following fall.
According to an IFC press release, "The documentary asks whether Hollywood movies and independent films are rated equally for comparable content; whether sexual content in gay-themed movies is given harsher ratings penalties than their heterosexual counterparts; whether it makes sense that extreme violence is given an R rating while sexuality is banished to the cutting room floor; whether Hollywood studios receive detailed directions as to how to change an NC-17 film into an R, while independent film producers are left guessing; and finally, whether keeping the raters and the rating process secret leaves the MPAA entirely unaccountable for its decisions."
The documentary goes where no documentary has gone before: Directly to the producers, directors and actors who've been personally affected by adverse MPAA decisions. Among the film's interviewees are John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, etc.), Kevin Smith (Dogma), Matt Stone (co-creator of "South Park"), Kimberly Peirce (director of Boys Don't Cry, about the life and death of transgendered teen Teena Brandon), Atom Egoyan (writer/director of political and psychosexual dramas such as Where the Truth Lies and Exotica), Darren Aronofsky (director of the drug addiction saga Requiem for a Dream), Mary Harron (director of the film version of Bret Easton Ellis' horrific bestseller American Psycho), actress Maria Bello (star of classy neo-noir films like Payback and The Cooler) and distributor Bingham Ray (co-founder of October Films and former president of United Artists).
Kirby Dick, director of the documentary Twist Of Faith, about a man who confronts the trauma of past sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, kept the subject matter of This Film Is Not Yet Rated under wraps while doing research on the MPAA's practices, but moviegoers will have to wait until the film's debut to find out if Dick succeeded in uncovering one of MPAA's best-kept secrets: The identities of the ratings board members, all of whom were hand-picked by the organization's founder Jack Valenti during his tenure as MPAA president and for a full year after his retirement in Sept. 2004.
"It is important that this film be seen by as many people as possible," Dick said, "as it deals with an insidious form of censorship resulting from a ratings process that has been kept secret for more than 30 years."
Readers will be amused to know that on Nov. 30, the (so-far anonymous) MPAA ratings board has given the film an NC-17 rating for "some graphic sexual content."