Ealasaid/ July 9, 2007/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Directed by: Kirby Dick
Rated: an early version was rated NC-17 for some graphic sexual content, but the rating was surrendered.
Parental Notes: Like most documentaries, this is not a film aimed at kids. They will find it dull, and parents will be uncomfortable explaining the scenes that include sex and violence. Teenagers will find it informative, though parents uncomfortable with frank talk about sexuality may be unwilling to let their teens watch it.


The Motion Picture Association of America is well-known to just about all movie goers, even if they don’t know its name. It’s the body that puts ratings on films — the familiar G, PG, PG-13, R, and the scandalous NC-17. But what do we know about the MPAA? Not much, and they do their best to keep it that way. Filmmaker Kirby Dick set out to learn as much about them as he could, even going so far as to hire a private eye. The result of his efforts is “This Film is not yet Rated,” a snarky, hilarious, and rabble-rousing expose of a documentary. It’s a must-see for parents who use ratings to decide what their kids see, for folks who care about free speech, and for anybody who thinks that ratings aren’t that big a deal.
Dick interviews filmmakers like John Waters (“A Dirty Shame”), Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Kevin Smith (“Clerks II”), and Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) about their experiences with the MPAA, and their stories are almost shocking, especially “South Park” creator Trey Parker’s account of how different his studio-funded film was treated than his earlier independent work. Dick also managed to track down some MPAA insiders who were willing to talk, and their stories are illuminating.
The MPAA has always insisted that their ratings are voluntary, but as Dick shows us, there are agreements between the studios that make the films, the media that advertise the films, and the exhibitors who show the films which pretty much guarantee that any unrated or NC-17 film will receive little or no publicity and be shown in a very limited collection of theaters. For example, “This Film is not yet Rated” surrendered its NC-17 rating and was released as an unrated film; it did not show in studio-owned theater chains as a result and is not carried in some video rental stores either.
The ratings system, ultimately, is arbitrary and secretive. The rules, procedures, and standards used by the MPAA are secret. They promise they have filmmakers’ best interests at heart, and we just need to trust them — but of course they can’t provide any evidence because of the secrecy, and they are accountable to nobody. “This Film is not yet Rated” does a lot to drag the MPAA kicking and screaming into the light of public scrutiny, and apparently some changes have been made at the MPAA as a result. There’s still a long way to go, though. Hopefully other documentary-makers will be inspired to do some more digging.