The Weinstein Company co-President Harvey Weinstein saw fit to stick his finger in the eye of the MPAA on Monday, when he announced that the company would release Lee Hirsch’s doc BULLY without a rating from the trade association. Weinstein’s decision followed a weeks-long effort to get the MPAA to reduce its R rating to PG-13, in order to make it easier for adolescents to see the film’s anti-bullying message. Hirsch had argued that eliminating the foul language that was the cause of the R rating would diminish the authenticity of the film.
The decision to allow BULLY to go to theaters unrated left some wondering whether kids would be able to see it. Theater chain AMC posted a note on its website saying that kids 17 or younger would be allowed to watch the film if accompanied by a guardian, or if they presented a signed permission slip. The U.S.’s largest movie theater chain, Regal Cinemas, for its part said it would also play the film, but treat it the same way it treated R-rated films. Bully opened at five locations in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 30, and is scheduled to go into wider release on April 13.
Reviews of the film thus far have been relatively strong. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott anointed the film as a NYT Critic’s Pick, calling it a “moving and troubling documentary about the misery some children inflict upon others.” At NPR.com, Bob Mondello said the film was “ a wrenching, potentially transformative look at an epidemic of adolescent cruelty and adult paralysis in the nation’s public schools.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said a “theme of parental difficulty in getting satisfactory responses from those in authority positions in schools is one of BULLY’s constant refrains.”
Also this past week, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath, the director of Khmer Rouge investigative doc ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE, told the Guardian newspaper that he feared for his life, and had been harassed by state security forces for the last two years. The Guardian reported that “Sambath, a senior reporter for the Phnom Penh Post, said the harassment started in May 2010 after news reports circulated internationally about ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE.” In the film, Sambath was able to get Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea to talk on camera for the first time about his role in the killings that happened during the military junta’s rule.
Outgoing International Documentary Association President Eddie Schmidt stopped to rap with Katharine Relth to mark his three-year run in the position. His advice for incoming president Marjan Safinia? “Maintain patience. Non-profit organizations can make great strides, but it really doesn’t happen overnight.” (Sounds like good advice for filmmakers too.)
Over at Sundance, Jeffrey Winter took a look at the way buzz had been built up online around Alison Klayman doc AI WEWEI: NEVER SORRY. Winter noted that the film had benefited from being a popular topic among Twitter adherents, among other things.
Back at the New York Times, critic Dennis Lim took a look at the Flaherty NYC program The Lives of Animals. Lim noted that footage of animals featured prominently in some of the earliest films, including famous works by Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey, and wondered if “animals were encoded in the DNA of the cinema.”
Robert Redford did his part this week to hasten the death of newspapers, telling the BBC that documentaries had replaced broadsheets as the main source of investigative journalism. “You can show things in documentary films that maybe a government or some big corporation might hide,” Redford told the Beeb.
Christopher Campbell at the Documentary Channel has this week’s theatrical releases, which include BULLY, of course. But also in theaters this week is Jon Shenk’s THE ISLAND PRESIDENT. Campbell talked with Shenk about how the director found the story, and his past as a documentarian at Lucasfilm.
Stranger Than Fiction is taking the week off, but we’ll be back to kick off the Spring Season on Tuesday, April 10 with a screening of WE’RE NOT BROKE, a film by Karin Hayes and Victoria Brookes. The doc, a Sundance alum, takes a look at the ways that multibillion-dollar corporations avoid paying their U.S. income taxes. You can find out more information and buy tickets here. Also, consider picking up a Spring Season Pass, which will grant you access to all of the season’s screenings, as well as free popcorn.