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Kirby Dick on his latest film This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Industry Editor Sandy Mandelberger sat down with veteran documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick, whose lastest film, THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, is one of the most talked about at the Festival. The film is an eye-opening investigation into the secret works of the Motion Picture Association of America, the official ratings board for films that are released in theaters.

THIS FILM IS NOT RATED features spectacular (and sometimes spectacularly funny) interviews with such prestigious filmmakers as John Waters, Atom Egoyan, Mary Harron, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky and Kimberly Pierce. Distributors and film critics interviewed include David Ansen (Newsweek), Mark Urman (Thinkfilm) and Bingham Ray (ex-United Artists).

Kirby Dick has a distinguished career as one of independent film's most prolific documentary filmmakers. His film SICK (1997) won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Fetival and the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival that year. Last year, Dick directed the controversial TWIST OF FAITH (2005), a compelling film about a man who confronts the trauma of past sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary.

Sandy Mandelberger: Your film makes the bold attempt to uncover the secret working of the ratings board at the MPAA. Why did you feel that this was an important subject to pursue?

Kirby Dick: The MPAA is a public organization which has a policy of total secrecy about who sits on its ratings board and the criteria it uses to rate films prior to their release. Since a film's rating effects the kind of distribution it will ultimately receive, I felt it was important to examine how this secretive body works and who are the decision makers that effect the fate of so many films.

SM: Did you contact the MPAA to let them know what you were doing with this film?

KB: We did contact them to ask for some interviews, but no one wanted to be on camera. So, we simply recorded phone conversations and then used animation to stand in for the officials. The MPAA soon found out what the film was about when I submitted it to their ratings board. Apparently, video copies were made (which is not legal for them to do) and it got passed around to all the honchos. Not surprisingly, my film received a NC-17 rating, the harshest one.

SM: IFC Films produced the film. Did they receive any pressure from the MPAA to tone down the criticism and change anything in your film?

KB: IFC has been tremendously courageous in taking on this subject. Luckily, they are still a totally independent company and not part of some big corporate conglomerate. If one of the studios' independent divisions were involved, then there would definitely have been pressure, since the studios are all members of the MPAA.

SM: Your film makes the point that violent films are treated less harshly than films with sexual content, and that independent films are treated more strictly than studio films. Why do you think that is?

KB: The MPAA was set up as a lobbying body for the major studios, so being more lenient with them is part of what seems to happen. If a film gets a R or PG rating, then more movie theaters will run it. It is incredible to me as a parent that films that are ultra violent can get a PG rating, since the studios know that their biggest customers are young teenage boys. Films that deal with explicity sexuality or even hints of homosexuality are almost automatically given NC-17 ratings, which means that many theaters will not show them, many newspapers will not accept their advertising and many video stores will not stock them. That is a serious issue that stands in the way of the economic success of the films.

SM: You spend a lot of time in the film having private investigators uncover the names of the secret members of the ratings board. Why was this important to do?

KB: By staying so private, it kept the process very secretive, which is not the case in any kind of review process. I think it is good investigative journalism to uncover these kinds of secrets. In addition, the screen time we spent in finding out who these people were created a dramatic tension to the film that made it more entertaining and gave the film greater shape.

SM: What would be a better solution to the current ratings system, which was, after all, set up to guide parents on what films would be appropriate for their young children?

KB: I do think that a review process is a good idea in principle, but it needs to be a much more open system, with established criteria for judging the films on their own merit. Other countries have similar systems but it is not done so secretly....filmmakers have the right to request the notes of the review process and they can appeal. Ultimately, the MPAA can make suggestions, but it is up to the parents to make these decisions about what films are right for their own children. I made the film to be a crusader in making changes, and in keeping the information flow in this country open and subject to public scrutiny. I hope this film helps a little bit to keeping this a free society.


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Sandy Mandelberger, Industry Editor

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