Documentaries of the Week – Media & Journalism 2: Film

In the second of (at least) three posts on documentaries covering some aspect of the media or journalism, I present two documentaries which show some of the potential pitfalls of film-making.

Rochefort on horse behind Gilliam © François Duhamel 2002

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Terry Gilliam’s disastrous first production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, is the focus of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary. Gilliam’s production was beset with problems. The outdoor location turned out to be near a NATO aircraft base, and a flood destroyed equipment and the location’s landscape. But the film was finally killed by an injury to lead actor Jean Rochefort (pictured above with Gilliam).

Lost in La Mancha is a tragicomedy. The events which get in Gilliam’s way make you feel for him (particularly since he’s so invested in the film). But as one thing piles upon another, you can’t help but laugh. You know you shouldn’t, but at times you can’t help it. The production simply goes so, so wrong that it becomes farcical. But Fulton and Pepe never let the viewer forget about the tragic man at the centre of this collapse. Gilliam announced in 2008 that a second production of the film had begun. You won’t be surprised to hear that it has since suffered a series of setbacks. Gilliam must sometimes feel his efforts are as pointless as Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated logo

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

Production problems aren’t the only issues facing film-makers. In most countries, films go through a process of classification or censorship. In the US, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) uses a rating system, which uses different age recommendations. Participation in the system is not actually required, but distributors will have trouble getting a film into cinemas without a rating. But, as director Kirby Dick found, the MPAA’s ratings board (whose members are anonymous) can be very restrictive on the content to which they’ll attach a lower rating for a wider (and younger) audience. It’s revealed in the documentary that the board will give a more restrictive rating for homosexual than heterosexual content, for male nudity than female, and for sexual than violent content.

As well as speaking with other film-makers, Dick hires a private investigator to identify the members of the MPAA ratings board. This investigation casts doubt on the MPAA’s claims that the board’s members all have children under 18 years old. It’s also revealed that the board includes two clergymen (one Catholic, one Protestant), in an apparent effort to create a more conservative (and thus restrictive) atmosphere and culture on the board.

The documentary itself was submitted to be rated. It was given an NC-17 rating (meaning no-one 17 and under should view it) for scenes which were intended to illustrate the content which would lead to an NC-17 rating. Dick’s submission and appeal are now included in the documentary. Because of this change, the film must be resubmitted to the MPAA and it’s currently not rated.

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