Surprises aren’t always a good thing in San Francisco. Exhaustive media coverage of the centennial of the 1906 great earthquake and fire—the defining event of the city’s history and biggest natural disaster in America until Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last year—recently shook Bay Area residents with constant reminders that this is shake-rattle-and-roll country.
On Saturday morning, Talk Cinema founder and former Film Comment editor Harlan Jacobson admitted to being a “nervous New Yorker” whose friends had two words of advice about teaming up with the San Francisco International Film Festival: “Don’t go!”
Early risers, who attended the 10 a.m. screening at the Kabuki 8 Theatres in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown, were certainly glad Jacobson made the trip. Talk Cinema is a national organization in 12 cities that offers its members special sneak previews followed by moderated discussions. Titles and guests are never announced in advance.
Jacobson revealed the first surprise selection of the three Talk Cinema screenings slated for the Festival as THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, the hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“We had to pick our jaws up off the ground,” said Jacobson of the Park City reaction to director Kirby Dick’s stunning exposé of the MPAA film ratings system and its impact on American culture.
Simultaneously serious and outrageously funny, the documentary deftly interweaves news footage, film clips and candid interviews with those willing to go on the record about their frustrating experiences with MPAA practices. Filmmakers Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY), Kevin Smith (CLERKS), John Waters (A DIRTY SHAME), Matt Stone (TEAM AMERICA), Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO), actor Maria Bello (THE COOLER) and others question the fairness of the system. Are Hollywood and indie films with similar content rated in the same way? Does gay sexual content result in harsher ratings? Do depictions of female pleasure unnerve the raters? Why do movies filled with extreme violence receive R ratings, while films featuring human sexuality routinely get slapped with NC-17? And who are these rating board members that operate as covertly as the CIA?
The Academy Award-nominated Dick (TWIST OF FAITH, DERRIDA) also lets the viewer tag along with the endearing female private detectives who spy on the secret MPPA raters and appeals board to uncover their identities. This structural device provides tension and adds even more humor to the documentary’s comic animation and split-screen effects.
When the lights came up, Jacobson introduced Kirby Dick as “a muckraking cultural journalist who gets to the meaning of those who try to control us.” During Q&A, the genial director noted that “NC-17 labels make it look like they [the MPAA] are doing their job to keep smut out of the marketplace while diverting attention elsewhere. There are no standards. It’s almost like a haiku. The last thing they want is any accountability in the rating system.”
Disappointed festivalgoers who couldn’t score this hot ticket earlier in the day could console themselves by strolling outside into the street fair of the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Post and Buchanan Streets were lined with booths selling tasty Japanese cuisine ranging from hot udon to fried mochi, and vendors offered everything from sushi soap to Japanese sword restoration. A bag of Sakura popcorn, sprinkled with toasted nori, might have satisfied anyone with movies still on their mind.