April 10th, 2012 | Comments Off
For weeks now our daily Google Alerts, which are set to various key phrases related to documentary films, have been hijacked by news about one particular American documentary; Bully. But what is so special about Harvey Weinstein’s film that it gets so much attention? DocGeeks explains.
The story in a nutshell
Before dust was able to settle on the Oscar that Harvey Weinstein’s production company received for The Artist the producer announces his next big project; a documentary called Bully.
Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch, examines school bullying by means of following five children and their families over the course of a school year.
The documentary was also aimed at exactly that target group, children (or rather high school teens) and their parents. After all, it is children that bully and it is children that get bullied.
In the USit is the MPAA which provides ratings for films and very little theatres would accept to show a film that hasn’t been rated or would go against such a rating.
So when the MPAA gave the film and R-rating, which means that a child under the age of 17 needs to see it with an adult, Weinstein’s plan to market/show it to anyone under that age disappeared.
The MPAA said the documentary included six swearwords and therefore did not find it suitable. According to the Weinstein the rating restricted the very audience the film can most benefit. The producer argued this was part of the bullying scene, of a high school scene, of a child’s natural daily environment, and the company appealed the decision, but to no avail. The MPAA declined to lower the rating.
So what happened next?
Known to be somewhat of a bully himself in the industry Weinstein then threatened to withdraw his future films from the rating system. However, would he have done that some theatres would treat the film as a NC-17 film, on par with porn – commercially not a great move.
All during this hefty debate the online world blogged, posted and tweeted until its arms hurt. The hashtag #bully was used so much it almost got boring and the bright yellow poster of the documentary hurt your eyes as soon as you logged in on Facebook. A petition went around online and within days the signatures on the list came to 500,000 people. Even stars such as Justin Bieber and Meryl Streep called for a lower rating.
In short, when word got out (and you can leave that to the Weinstein Company) the pressure rose for the MPAA. But the board of the MPAA stood by its standards, contending that an exception for the documentary would make it impossible in the future to uphold decisions about other films. Fair enough.
By now though the documentary needed no hefty marketing campaign anymore – a success was already guaranteed. So when the Weinstein Company said that it would release the film without any rating at all it could do so in good faith that it would not do any damage to its income, if anything it would do the opposite.
While some theaters or parents would still not show Bully to their children there probably isn’t a household in theUSafter the whole affair that hasn’t heard of the film. The documentary’s rating battle offered a coming together of circumstances too good to be true for any company looking to promote something.
But it got even better for Weinstein. Though normally the MPAA refuses to rate a different version of the same film within a period of 90 days film, it made an exception when Weinstein eventually offered to do so.
So, one week in and the documentary Bully is no longer unrated. The Classification and Rating Administration said it gave the film a PG-13 rating after a newly edited version had been submitted. Now everybody will be able to see the edited version nationwide, the film they heard so much about. Meaning just like in the movies there was a happy ending. The topic of bullying got the attention it deserved, the documentary will be awarded for its efforts by large audiences Weinstein & Co, no doubt they’ll be off celebrating somewhere.
Official trailer for Bully
Written by Alexandra Zeevalkink
Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentary films, art projects and social inequalities. When she is not blogging or watching films she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.
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