Documentarian Kirby Dick has been compared to photographer Diane Arbus in the way he prefers to open the camera lens to the pained, the freakish and the inexplicable that exists on the margins of everyday life. Over the course of his career, Dick's subjects have included people dying of cancer in a Los Angeles hospice, sexual surrogates in the employ of psychotherapists, actual freak show performers and Vegas showgirls. He also once followed around French philosopher Jacques Derrida for a documentary that attained cult status the moment the 70-year old deconstructionist was forced to entertain questions about Seinfeld. For his latest film, the Academy-award nominated director sets out to answer a simple question: Who actually sits on the film ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America? What qualifies them to rate films? What are their names?
Turns out it's not so simple. The MPAA guards that information so jealously that in This Film is Not Yet Rated, Dick is almost immediately reduced to hiring a professional private investigator to sit outside the gates of the organization's Encino compound and wait for someone to enter or exit. A few telephoto lenses and license plates later, Dick is off on a quest to not only explore the identities of the board members, but also to pull back the shroud of secrecy surrounding the MPAA's practices and its indelible bond to the Hollywood studios. Cinematical spoke to Dick, in town to do press for the movie:
Some of the early festival reviews of this film rounded on you for not proposing a lot of solutions to what you view as the deficiencies of the MPAA. Did you feel it was your job to point a way forward, or were you satisfied with just shining a light on problems with the organization? What's your response to that criticism?
KD: I did make a significant effort to get that in. The film itself had a very complex structure, with all these multiple elements, but I think in retrospect I would have worked even harder to try to get that in. Because I definitely have a strong opinion on that. What I'd like to see first and foremost is that the ratings system get out information about what the content is in films. That is one thing that the MPAA claims it's doing, but it's doing a very poor job of. I would like to see a concise but comprehensive list of the content of a film, whether its sex, violence, nudity, or drug use, so that parents can make the decision as to whether they want their child to see the film, and not have ten anonymous parents in Los Angeles make that decision for them. I'd like to see a professional system. One of the surprising things was how unprofessional this process was. There are no written standards. The raters receive no training whatsoever. There are no media experts or psychologists, unlike in Europe where it is professionalized. Also unlike in Europe, there's no transparency to the system. We should know who the raters are and we should know how the process works. In Europe everyone knows who these people are and they do their job just fine.