Open Up – It's the Filmmakers!

Kirby Dick raids the MPAA

Atom Egoyan (l) and Kirby Dick
Atom Egoyan (l) and Kirby Dick

The Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board – the Classification and Rating Administration – sits in a nondescript albeit walled compound in the center, more or less, of greater Los Angeles. Much like Baghdad's storied Green Zone, wherein U.S. and coalition forces (and sundry NGOs) are protected from the slings and arrows of breech-birthed Democracy, so, too, does CARA seek to tame – or at least muzzle – the chaos whereout. It can be safely said that neither the Iraqis nor the filmmakers, whose films require a rating – any rating, even the dreaded NC-17 – if they are to stand even the slimmest chance in the hyper-competitive theatrical marketplace, are very happy with either situation.

Filmmaker Kirby Dick (Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist) hasn't made it to the Middle East yet, but, to his credit, he has made it inside the ratings board. Sort of. His new documentary, the cannily titled This Film Is Not Yet Rated, holds a magnifying glass up to former MPAA head (and perpetual Beltway insider) Jack Valenti's supersecret cabal of "ordinary American moms and dads" whose sworn duty it is to watch and rate every single film playing in Anytown, USA.

It's often been asked – in thriving democracies old and new, where the key ring of liberty so often jangles art up against commerce – who watches the watchers; who scrutinizes the scrutinizers; and who brandishes the banned, the censored, and the disappeared.

Kirby Dick, that's who.

Austin Chronicle: Have you gotten any blowback from Jack Valenti or the Powers That Be yet?

Kirby Dick: Jack Valenti hasn't surfaced, but they did keep a copy of our tape.

AC: Meaning?

KD: Well, what happened was that before I submitted the tape to get a rating from the MPAA, [I was informed] that it was only going to be seen by the film raters and no one else. And they assured me both in an e-mail and on the phone that only the raters would see it, and not even their staff or anyone else would view the tape. That's their stated policy. And then I found out that MPAA head Dan Glickman had seen it, which, obviously, directly contradicted the assurances they made to me previously. This troubled me, so I then called [MPAA ratings board Chair] Joan Graves, who told me the reason Dan had seen it was because they were concerned about issues of invasion of privacy. I asked her, point blank, was there a copy of my film made, and she said, "Not to my knowledge." Three days later I get a call from attorney Greg Geckner saying that yes, in fact, a copy of the film had been made, but don't worry, because it was safe in his vault.

AC: His "vault?" As in "right next to the cask of Amontillado" vault?

KD: That's the one. It's very bizarre. And, here, let me read you this quote that's taken directly from the MPAA's Web page: "Manufacturing, selling, distributing, or making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright holders is illegal. Movie pirates are thieves, plain and simple. All forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences."

AC: So, they've hung themselves by their own petard, so to speak.

KD: Exactly. And the other thing, which was actually kind of disturbing, was that someone asked an MPAA spokesperson to comment on the point, made very persuasively in the film, that gay films are rated more strictly than nongay films, and she said, "We don't set the standards; we reflect the standards." Which implies, what, that if the standards in this country were a racist standard, or an anti-Semitic standard, would they reflect that? And that's the whole problem with the ratings board: They have no accountability, they have complete control, there's no written standards to go by, and there's no transparency whatsoever. And, obviously, that's not a good thing. end story

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Friday, March 10, midnight, Alamo Downtown

Saturday, March 11, midnight, Alamo Downtown

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

SXSW Film Releases Full Feature Lineup
SXSW Film Releases Full Feature Lineup
Slate includes everyone from Wes Anderson to the Zellners

Monica Riese, Jan. 30, 2014

Mindy Kaling Comes to SXSW
Mindy Kaling Comes to SXSW
The comedian and showrunner will speak March 9

Monica Riese, Jan. 21, 2014

More Screens
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Matt Frank builds the perfect monster

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 28, 2020

SXSW Film Reviews: 'Improvement Club'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

Robert Faires, March 15, 2013

More by Marc Savlov
Mangled Italian creature feature should be even shorter

Sept. 25, 2020

I’ve Got Issues
Mournful, doleful, hopeful Austin comedy finds empathy in the edges

Sept. 18, 2020


SXSW Film 06, Kirby Dick, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Jack Valenti, Dan Glickman, Joan Graves, Motion Picture Association of America, Classification and Ratings Administration

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle