This Film is Not Yet Rated is an interesting documentary but as with The Cove (link), it is akward at times because it is really telling two stories and sometimes the back and forth can get confusing. In both cases one story is getting footage – in the Cove it is footage of how whales and dolphins are butchered in Japan, in this one it is footage of the MPAA Ratings Board- and the other is about why they want this footage, what they are going to do with it, its impact, etc.
Its central premise is a good one: Who are those people deciding what ratings to put on movies? Why are their identities kept secret? Thus the plot device – the directory, Kirby Dick, hires private investigators to try to identify these people. The movie thus cuts between what she finds out and interviews with directors and artists ranging from the always colorful and funny John Waters to Kimberly Peirce (director of Boys Don’t Cry) to Matt Stone of the South Park series and movies – to talk about the impact of the ratings of films on them and on the box office.
If you’re interested in movies and ratings this movie is a must-see. If not you might find it plodding at parts.
The best parts, for me, come in the second half when the director submits this documentary to the MPAA (it gets an NC-17 because he included controversial scenes from other movies that received NC-17). When he files an appeal, and thus begins to finally communicate with its leaders and learns things previously unknown to the general public, such as that there are two religious figures on the appeals board. And, yes, the identities of each of the raters is revealed through great – sometimes funny – detective work.
I did learn some interesting facts and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about film. But I did not know, for example, that films released unrated (despite MPAA calling its system voluntary) can’t be advertised in some markets and with some theater chains and the same is true of those getting the NC-17 rating. So a good chunk of the movie asks why some movies get NC-17 while others get R.
Bonus: The dvd commentary (yes, I’m one of those people who listens to the audio commentary of every movie I watch) is more interesting than usual as it lets the main investigator tell her story, which is also quite interesting.)
I’ll leave the last word to Roger Ebert:
But while "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" may not present the most effective or airtight case against the MPAA, what it does dig up is damning enough. Some will say it's "one-sided" or "unfair," but that's a rather silly thing to say about an indictment of an autocratic system that is patently one-sided and unfair. The MPAA's positions are amply represented in the film, mostly by career demagogue and super-lobbyist Jack Valenti, now retired, who was instrumental in creating and mythologizing the ratings to begin with.
After seeing "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," you may find yourself thinking a government censorship board, of the kind that exists today in parts of Canada or the U.K., isn't such a bad idea. At least somebody would have to be accountable for the decisions they make. Wouldn't they?