Basically, This Film is a documentary about the MPAA and it’s often-criticized ratings system. Toward the end, the film delved into a meta-film state where Dick went through the process of having the film rated by the MPAA then go through the appeals process.
Like any good documentary, This Film contained lots of funny stuff (clips from overly sexual movies, witty comments, lesbian private investigators in Los Angeles), commentary from famous people — both intellects (Lawrence Lessig, various academics) and film types (John Waters, Mary Harron, Maria Bello, etc.), and some really probing questions about the subject matter (Why are the members of the ratings board kept anonymous? What is an “average” American parent? Why is violence allowed more often than sex?, etc.)
The film started with the basic question: Why does nobody know who is on the board of people who gives films rating for the MPAA and what qualifications do they have when it comes to rating movies? It turns out that the eight members are kept anonymous so that they are not influenced by the studios (despite the fact that, according to the film, they often consult for a movie after viewing it).
The filmmaker ends up interviewing various private investigators in an attempt to discover who is on the board. He ultimately chooses a lesbian couple who claim that they will do whatever it takes to get the information needed. “Whatever it takes” turned out to be sitting outside the MPAA, finding out who goes to lunch when, tracking down some license plate numbers, making vague but information collecting phone calls to the MPAA office, and tracking down people at restaurants. With the PIs help, Dick is able to give us the MPAA Ratings Board Class of 2005. It turns out that many of them have children well over the age of 20, which begs the question: Why should they be the ones rating films?
This Film also delves into the obviously biased method in which films are rated. Of note: gay and lesbian films get NC-17 ratings for things that easily make it into R-rated straight films (e.g. But I’m a Cheerleader vs. American Pie), violence is not as much of a problem as sex (e.g. dismemberment in Sin City vs. a Maria Bello’s pubic hair in The Cooler), if a film has violence no blood must be shown (e.g. bloodless PG-13 Tomorrow Never Dies vs. bloody R-rated Saving Private Ryan), and military the military should be shown in a positive manner (e.g. realistic Gunner Palace vs. Top Gun).
The audience for this film was great. The Egyptian was totally packed (I forgot that you often have to wait in line for SIFF films, and this line was wrapping way around over toward QFC) and the crowd was totally into it. I’m one of those people who hates it when people clap and cheer during movies, but This Film and the audience had me clapping and laughing and cheering more than any movie I’ve ever seen. The energy of the film is great and really keeps people engaged with what could potentially be dry material.
Following the film we were lucky enough to have Kirby Dick take some questions and give some answers, but I didn’t realize he would be there and didn’t plan accordingly by bringing a notebook to jot things down. The jist of a lot of the questions, though, were along the lines of “What next?” and “What does this all mean?” It seemed pretty obvious that leading up to the film’s theatrical release in September there is probably going to be some sort of grassroots anti-MPAA/ratings movement. We’ll see what pans out.
I gave this movie an “enthusiastic” 5 and I don’t think it’s just because it’s my first SIFF film this year and I was excited. This was a truly great movie and I highly recommend it.