The first movie we’ve seen so far at this years Auckland International Film Festival, is a documentary which concerns itself with the secretive goings on of the privately run (by the Motion Picture Associate of America) film ratings board. An unqualified, unidentified, and distinctly shady group of religious conservative "parents" who have effective control over the ratings given to all American movies.
Kirby Dick presents the jaw dropping facts in a sometimes humorous way, as humorous as it can be seeing what these guys get up to.
I must say, our own office of films videos and publications classification seems like a far more open and honest system by comparison, but I already thought that. How cool is it that our chief sensor is a publicly out gay man?
With numerous interviews with the film makers who have themselves been affected by the heavy handed (and uninformed) decisions sent down by the ratings board, including from Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Michael Tucker, Atom Egoyan, and many many others, as well as side-by-side comparisons of what the big-studios get away with next to what smaller independently produced films get snapped for.
The members of the film ratings board are secret, which makes it hard for Dick to talk to them, or about them, so he hires a private investigator, who later turns out to be a gay mother, working with her lesbian partner, we go along on stake outs and car pursuits with these women, follow them into restaurants where they surreptitiously record the day to day goings on of the staff from the ratings board until they end up with a list of all of their names, these identities can then be placed against known quotes from the former head of the MPAA (for 38 friggin’ years!) Jack Kirby, talking about how all of the member of the ratings board are parents of children between 5 and 17 years and so forth. The reality is somewhat different, some of the censors (for that is what they really are) have no children, they’re virtually divorcees, and a majority of the ones that are parents have grown children (we’re talking 20 – 30 year olds). Of course, this wouldn’t matter at all if the publicity they spread about themselves didn’t make it an issue.
Later in the piece, Kirby Dick has to submit his own film, which of course includes footage of the censors, their names, video of their homes, and so on, to the ratings board itself, and no one is especially surprised when it comes back with the very highest possible rating.
His only recourse is a supposedly open and transparent appeals board, only their lawyer tells him he can’t take footage, he can’t ask for identities, and so on. So of course he gets his private investigators on the case again, and it turns out the review board includes several representatives of the American clergy (one Catholic, one Episcopalian) and the rest of the board is all made up of theatre chain owners and film buyers and so on who have such incredibly vested interests, that no more really needs to be said from that point. (So he just names them, lists their affiliations, and then illustrates how the vast corporate ownership of American media rests, really, with just a few companies.)
I thought it was a great documentary, I would have liked it if maybe they’d had some better cameras (it seems to be shot entirely on video), but the content more than makes up for that.
Highly recommended if you have an interest in media and censorship matters.
It’s playing again only once in Auckland, this Monday July 17th at 8.45pm, check the New Zealand Film Festival website for more details. And who knows about a longer run at Rialto of somewhere later on down the line.