Holocaust doc ‘A Film Unfinished’ keeps the MPAA in the ire-provoking business

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The MPAA has made some head-scratching rating decisions in the last year; it’s hard to forget the R that “It’s Complicated” earned for a pot-smoking scene, or the PG-13, conversely, for the violent “The A-Team.”

The group’s ratings board isn’t going to win over any skeptics with its decision in an appeal today to give an R to “A Film Unfinished,” Yael Hersonski’s chronicling of the production of a Nazi propaganda film in the Warsaw Ghetto circa 1942 and a look at the atrocities therein, which Oscilloscope is set to release later this month.

Oscilloscope founder Adam Yauch was among those who presented to the board, and reacted angrily when it was over. “This is too important of a historical document to ban from classrooms,” he said in a statement. “While there’s no doubt that Holocaust atrocities are displayed, if teachers feel their students are ready to understand what happened, it’s essential that young people are given the opportunity to see this film.... I understand that the MPAA wants to protect children’s eyes from things that are too overwhelming, but they’ve really gone too far this time.”

The decision is sure to raise the typical questions about the authority and criteria of the MPAA, in this case with an in loco parentis spin. Of course, it’s not clear how the rating would work in the real world -- would parents or other teachers object to a Holocaust documentary because it has a putative R? -- but it certainly could have a chilling effect on schools that might want to show the film.
There’s a particular irony in the movie trafficking in the question of whitewashing history; in the film, Hersonski shows how the Nazi propaganda movie was jerry-rigged to make it seem as if prisoners in the Warsaw Ghetto actually had it pretty good. With its use of hard-hitting images, the movie uses the medium of film to dispel propaganda and make sure everyone gets to learn the truth. Everyone who can see an R-rated movie, anyway.


--Steven Zeitchik

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