This week’s decision by the makers of the controversial documentary film “Bully” to release it without a rating — instead of the Motion Picture Association of America’s R rating given to it because of its extreme profanity — probably won’t be the biggest factor in determining whether Maine theaters show it.
Theater operators said Tuesday that they aren’t sure the film will be distributed in Maine, because not every out-of-the-mainstream movie makes it to markets of this size. Operators of several theaters said they will wait until they know the film is available to them before deciding whether to show it.
Mainers who are interested in preventing bullying said Tuesday that their desire to see the film — and to bring youngsters to it — has not been changed by the film’s shift to a not-rated status. In fact, some advocates said that releasing the film without a rating might help it get a larger and more focused audience.
“I think this might get more people to see it with their kids, maybe bring their 10- and 11-year-olds,” said Rachel Williams of Cumberland, a mother of four who has worked on bullying prevention as a board member of the Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness in Portland. “Bullying is happening at the middle school level. The language in the film is the language that is used when bullying happens. I think if we sugarcoat it, the message is lost. But if they hear the language in a film, they can identify it.”
Williams said that rating the film R — which would keep anyone younger than 17 from seeing it without an adult — is like “teaching sex ed to kids when they’re 18. You’re a day late and a dollar short.”
The film is scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. It is unclear when it might be shown in smaller markets, including Maine. The film, produced by Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein’s company, tells the story of several children who are victimized by classmates. Critics have called at least one scene “harrowing.”
While it will be up to theaters to decide whether to show the unrated film, the National Association of Theatre Owners is recommending theater operators treat it like an R-rated film.
The Nickelodeon Cinemas in downtown Portland will show the film when and if it is offered by the distributor, said general manager David Scott. Scott said he would show the film with an R rating or with no rating. But as of Tuesday, Scott said, he did not know when to expect the film to be available to him.
“It depends on what release patterns (the distributor) decides on. They’ll see how the film does commercially and critically and then decide how many prints to make and where to send it,” Scott said.
Other theater managers — including the operators of the Cinemagic theaters in South Portland, Westbrook and Saco and the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick — said they aren’t sure yet whether they will show the film and that it hasn’t been offered to the chain yet.
Barry Norman, owner of the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick, said his decision on the film — if it’s available to him — will hinge more on whether he thinks it will fill seats, because he has only one screen.
“My main demographic is older people, but this might be a way for me to draw younger people,” said Norman.
Dede Bennell, a service learning coordinator at Freeport High School, said she thinks students should be able to see the film, rated or not. She’s working on a bullying awareness project with a senior English class, and said she’d like to consider taking students to see it, with school and parental approval.
“I’m not suggesting that it’s right that this language is being used, but I don’t think we’d be shocking our kids by letting them see this film,” said Bennell, who helped found the Tolerance and Respect Project in Regional School Unit 5.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]