IFP/West takes aim at MPAA ratings board

The Independent Feature Project/West has set the issue of film ratings and censorship as its top priority of 1993.

In opening remarks to be given at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, chairman Jonathan Wacks describes the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s Classification & Ratings Administration as “an arbitrary and dictatorial group.”

“This is a very complex issue,” Wacks admitted. “Our first step will be to bring about an awareness of the organization (CARA) and what it does. It’s essentially faceless, with no accountability to the creative community. We want to establish a dialogue with the parties most concerned and see if we can’t come up with some solutions.”

Painting the situation as the artistic equivalent to the “crisis in the health care system,” Wacks said the impact of the ratings system is not limited to the independent sector. However, he felt that “cutting-edge” films — a staple of the sector — were more susceptible to diminished artistic and economic benefits as a result of CARA scrutiny.

However, he insisted this was not simply another attack on the NC-17 rating, which received attention following the Sundance Film Festival screening of “Boxing Helena.”

Wacks’ personal experience with the board most recently involved horror spoof “Ed and His Dead Mother,” which he directed. He said the film initially received an R but his producers negotiated a PG-13 rating by excising a shot of the nude backsides of boys.

“There is still some rear nudity of girls in the movie,” Wacks said. “How is the decision made by them that boys’ bums are more acceptable than girls’? It’s an absurd situation.”

Wacks’ address, titled “The Ratings System: An Insidious Form of Censorship,” repeatedly hammers the point home that CARA has no representation or consultation from artists most directly affected by board decisions.

He quoted CARA chairman Richard Heffner as stating that 85% of U.S. theaters will not take films unless they have been certified by the board. Additionally, major video chains such as Blockbuster will not carry titles rated NC-17.

Heffner told Daily Variety that the ratings board has always been an easy target for special interest groups. “The indies tend to make more noise in the media, but don’t think the majors don’t apply pressure when they are unhappy. Of course, the board has to be wrong sometimes. But I believe our ratings are mostly accurate for the purpose they were meant to serve.”

Wacks said a special sub-committee of the IFP/W board has been established and will convene with other chapters of the organization during the weekend.

Other groups currently being solicited to join include Women in Film, the Black Filmmakers Foundation, the DGA, WGA, SAG, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences. Further activities in the area are being targeted for the AFI Fest in June.

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