Rating... none; for adults only

Documentary film-maker Kirby Dick (director of Twist of Faith) sets out to discover who the members of the MPAA ratings board are and how they make the decisions they do. It starts off with censored scenes of some well-known and some controversial movies intermixed with the credits. Interviews with directors, producers, actors, critics, attorneys, and authors give a mix of personal experience and give depth to the effect this secret board has on movies and society at large.

After a quick and humorous overview of what the various ratings mean, the movie explores some of its themes. Why do movies get rated the way they do? Why does one movie get a PG-13 instead of an R? An NC-17 instead of an R? What kind of people make up this “board of ordinary parents” that Jack Valenti created in 1968? Who controls the major studios and what is their connection to the MPAA?

The film investigates some of the claims made by Mr. Valenti and the MPAA, including the statement that they are more likely to give a film a higher rating for violence than for sexual content. Other claims include that the names of MPAA members are kept secret to keep them free from “influence”, and that all members are parents of children from 5 to 17 years old.

Next Kirby hires some private detectives to try to discover the identities of people in the MPAA. The names of ratings board and appeals board members are kept secret, make it one of the only (if not “the only”) supposedly “public” services that has no accountability in its membership.

Toward the end of the movie, they go through the process of getting This Film rated. Given that they are showing examples of sexual content and violence both, it's no real surprise that it comes back NC-17. The head of the ratings board admits there isn't much that can be done to change the movie, and that he's free to resubmit it, but it probably won't help. She never gives any actual guidelines and independent filmmakers in general have to guess based on previous ratings what might be wrong.

From there they go through the appeals process. Even standing in front of them, no one will identify who they are. Unlike any other appeals process, you cannot know the names of the people you are appealing to. After yelling at Kirby, they take a vote and unanimously (and anonymously) uphold the decision of the ratings board.

Bottom line: Great film. It's edited to not only give you information, but also a thrill every time the private detectives find a clue. Crosses the line of documentary into investigative journalism. If you love movies, you should see this film. Given some of the titles of the people at the MPAA, it will be amazing if this film lasts very long at the theater. Even so, as NetFlix and IFC have signed on to this venture, it should be available on TV and as a rental.


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