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Indie figures wage battle over ratings

Valenti criticized by filmmakers

NEW YORK — Hollywood execs cheered recently as Jack Valenti flexed his muscles in Washington hoping to fight off Sen. Joe Lieberman and other pols bent on imposing a universal ratings system, but Valenti isn’t likely to win a popularity contest in the indie film world.

That’s clear as a dispute between two fixtures of the indie biz — taboo-busting director Todd Solondz and October Films co-founder and Lot 47 prexy Jeff Lipsky — flared on the news service indieWire.com.

Solondz had been asked to alter his new film, “Storytelling,” to meet his contractual agreement with distributor Fine Line and secure an R rating. Instead, he superimposed a large red box on a scene he says was deemed “pornographic” by the MPAA, one that graphically shows a college professor (Robert Wisdom) having sex with a student (Selma Blair).

Rather than camouflaging the offending bits digitally, a la “Eyes Wide Shut,” Solondz said he hoped to draw attention to the act of censorship.

“I didn’t want to be a victim of censorship; I’d rather take it by the cajones and say this is what it is,” Solondz said in the posted interview.

Lipsky doesn’t see it that way. In a letter to indieWire, Lipsky didn’t mince words: “For Todd Solondz to proclaim, ‘I just didn’t want to be a victim of censorship … is delusional and a sure-fire sign he is sucking up to Hollywood, the majors, and commercial cinema,” Lipsky wrote.

Solondz declined to discuss Lipsky’s missive. But the implication that he has sold out isn’t likely to sit well with a director who hassought to broaden the horizons of American indiedom with pics like “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness,” which was dropped by October and released unrated by Good Machine.

Lipsky isn’t prepared to let Solondz off the hook, but he admits that Valenti should also be held accountable for this state of affairs.

“Jack Valenti is having a field day,” said Lipsky. The Lieberman legislation, he said, “creates a complete smokescreen that allows him to get away from what’s wrong with the MPAA. Hollywood allows him to have a Supreme Court-like tenure because his job is not to rock the boat.”

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