Above: Canadian director Atom Egoyan and Kirby
Dick in This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Kirby Dick is mad as hell and heís not gonna take it
anymore. The Oscar-Nominated Director, (Twist
Faith) found the MPAA ratings system, first
implemented in 1968 by longtime president Jack
Valenti, to be biased, absurd, and, most puzzling of
all, absolutely secret Ė almost sacred. So Dick
decided to investigate, and make a documentary
He called upon fellow filmmakers who also questioned
the ratings system to weigh in. They include John
Waters (A Dirty Shame), Kevin Smith
Stone (South Park), Kimberly Peirce (Boys
Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies), Darren
Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Mary Harron
(American Psycho), actress Maria Bello
and distributor Bingham Ray (co-founder, October
Films and former President, United Artists).
He also hired a private investigator to find out
exactly who the ratings board members are, and just
what is it they do. But he didnít stop there. He also
investigated the appeals process, and sent his own
film in to be rated. The result is one of the yearís
best documentaries, a stunning eye opener that
every film-goer should see. At least every film-goer
over 17. The film, after all, did get an NC-17 rating.
Kirby talked with IFA about his experience.
IFA: What was it that inspired you to make
in the first place?
Kirby: Well, Iíve been upset with the ratings
for so many years, like so many filmmakers. I was
angry with the biases in the ratings system,
particularly against independent films, and also
against films with gay sexuality. I was also very
upset with the secrecy around the whole system,
and around the process. In fact, for nearly 30 years,
no one has actually been able to figure out who the
film raters are.
So what I did was hire a private investigator, and I
went with her for many months as she tracked down
these people and got their names, and we got shots
of them. In my mind, this information should be open
to the public. If itís a system thatís for the public,
which the MPAA says it is, it should be public. So this
is one of the things that this film does Ė it shows not
only the film raters, but this very secretive process
that no one has really been able to determine how it
works. And this film finally opens that up.
IFA: How long did it take to find the
these people and bring the system to light?
Kirby: It took many, many months, because
MPAA is a very secretive organization. In fact, their
headquarters in Encino is like a fortress. If you donít
have official business, you canít even get on the
property. Itís not like you can walk into a lobby and
thereís a reception desk there. When I first told my
P.I. about this, she said, ďdonít worry, Iím good, Iíll
get them,Ē and then when she went and cased it
out, she came back and she said, ďthis is going to be
really hard.Ē They are so secretive, and theyíve kept
it this way for so long. And the reason for that is, if
no one knows how it works, no one can really
IFA: Why do you think no one has exposed
to this point?
Kirby: I think thereís a great deal of fear in
Hollywood. I certainly found that in making my film.
Initially, I thought that so many filmmakers had been
impacted by this, that everyone would talk to me.
That wasnít the case. Even with independent
filmmakers, many were unwilling to go on camera,
even though they were very supportive of the film,
because they were concerned that their next film
would be rated more harshly. Or they were afraid
that they would be blacklisted in Hollywood. Itís a
small town, and your reputation and relationships are
really all you have.
IFA: How has the MPAA responded to your
Kirby: We actually submitted our film for a
about three quarters of the way through the
process, and they rated it NC-17, which in some
ways isnít a surprise, because we have many clips
from other films that gave those films NC-17 ratings.
But the reason we submitted it is because we
wanted to get inside the system, and the only way
to do it was to follow our film through the ratings
process, and also through the appeals process,
which also was surprisingly Kafka-esque. Everything
was very secretive and you couldnít refer to other
films. It was like a star chamber.
IFA: It was shocking to hear that while the
claims these rating are for families, and they say
everyone on the ratings board must have children,
but in fact, almost none of them did.
Kirby: Thatís true. They said that all the
the ratings board must have children between the
ages of five and seventeen. Well, in fact, nearly half
of them donít. They probably got these people in
there on the board when they did have children
those ages. But they kept them on, because these
were very compliant raters who would follow the
ratings that the MPAA and studios wanted to
receive. So itís a way of control. I mean, again, no
one knew this. Everyone assumed that they were
following their own standards, but in fact, they
IFA: Would you say that the MPAA is heavily
toward the middle of the road family films?
Kirby: The MPAA really would prefer that
no ratings system at all. But if thereís going to be
one, they want to keep control of it. And the reason
they want to, is they want to make sure that their
films get the least restrictive ratings, so they can
get them out to the widest audience. Now the kinds
of films they make are the kinds of films targeted
towards adolescents. And those films have more
violence in them. And thatís why you see films with
violence getting off very easy. If you look at the
major studiosí competition, thatís independent films
and foreign films, they tend to make films more with
adult sexuality, and those films get harsher ratings.
So itís a system thatís set up to help them and their
bottom line, AND it hurts their competition.
IFA: Your film points out that in Europe, the
are opposite. Theyíre harsher on violence, and more
lenient on sexual content.
Kirby: Exactly. In Europe, the focus is much
violence and concern about that, and sexuality in a
film is much less of a concern. Also, in Western
Europe, all the ratings processes are open. Everyone
knows who the raters are, and it works completely
fine. Thereís no reason for secrecy in my mind,
unless they have something to hide.