Valenti defends ratings, embraces Italy at Venice

MPAA Chairman also discusses Korea's quotas

VENICE — In his annual pilgrimage to the Venice Film Festival, Motion Picture Assn. of America chairman Jack Valenti on Wednesday defended his org’s ratings policy and discussed current relations between the U.S. majors and some of its trade partners.

Valenti has been taken to task by film critics and filmmakers in recent months over the MPAA’s ratings standards. Addressing that hullabaloo while ensconced in his beachside bunker at the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido, Valenti told Daily Variety, “Interestingly enough, during all of these outbursts by movie critics and producers, I haven’t had one single criticism from a parent.

“(Most parents surveyed by the MPAA) over the last 15 years, with children under the age of 13, find the ratings system very useful to fairly useful in helping decide their children’s moviegoing,” he added.

In foreign affairs, Valenti and Italian cultural minister Giovanna Melandri will announce today the members of the Italian and American delegations charged with developing programs to improve the circulation of Italian-language films in the U.S. marketplace.

The establishment of the group, which will meet for the first time during the American Film Market in February, stems from July’s U.S.-Italy confab at the Taormina fest. The group will also address looming antitrust legislation being debated in the Italian government — legislation that could institute restrictions on film distribution policies of U.S. pics in Italy as well as limit the majors’ expansion into exhibition.

Valenti said there are currently no clear-cut programs being discussed, but the lobbyist promised that “before our meeting at AFM, we will draw up an agenda … with precise subjects to talk about and not just have a windy, blathery seminar.”

Valenti said he doesn’t have any plans to create similar groups with other countries, but he didn’t rule out establishing the focus groups on a case-by-case basis, saying: “We did the same type of group once before with Mexico, and if this kind of an architecture has results, then why not do it with other countries?”

Asked about discussions with South Korea over its protectionist screen quota system — which requires theaters to unspool indigenous films between 106 and 146 days a year — Valenti admitted: “We do have a problem in Korea, but I have made it clear to the Koreans that this is an unacceptable quota. And by the way, it is demoralizing and injuring to the Korean exhibition industry: Because of the quota, you have to show Korean films that sometimes don’t do any business … and as a result theaters are shutting down. It’s one of the few places in the world where attendance is going down.” He reiterated his stance that South Korea must abolish the quota if the U.S. Senate is to OK the Bilateral Investment Treaty being discussed by the two countries.