By: Tess Wilson
A new documentary premiered at a Montana film festival last weekend, and anyone interested in issues of censorship should put it at the top of their watch list. Sickies Making Films, a Haricot Vert Films production, takes a look at the long history of censorship and the cinema.
The producers behind this project include Joe Tropea, Robert Emmons, Skizz Cyzyk, Jennifer Ferretti, and Jeff Krulik. Among their previous endeavors are films like Hit & Stay: A History of Faith and Resistance, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and Hitler’s Hat. This group of filmmakers is comprised of artists, activists, archival scholars, and film historians, giving the entire team not only a personal interest in the subject of censorship, but also a solid platform of research to build upon.
Since this is a movie about the film industry itself, they aimed to give the audience a unique glimpse into the process. In an effort to peek behind the curtain of production, as one article states, “viewers…see films being played in theaters and on television sets; and scan the scrapbooks that have collected newspaper articles, photographs, and other archival material.” Through a combination of interviews, movie clips, and narration, the film’s producers compose what they call a “love letter to the movies.”
One interview, from archival footage of the Maryland Board of Censors, features member Mary Avara. Described by some as “a very outspoken, 70-year-old grandma,” Avara passionately disputes claims that censorship efforts violate constitutional rights. “Big deal,” she says in the trailer for the film, “Constitutional rights? When that was written, how many people were here? …Did they have these types of films that are being shown?” The producers note that, while some of the reasons behind decisions of censorship might seem “absurd” to a contemporary audience, other defenses presented in this documentary are “surprisingly understandable.” As one man notes in the trailer: “Every day people could have access to unmediated, un-moderated ideas. Images. Impulses. And that frightened people.”
From the specific realm of the Maryland Board of Censors to broad applications of the First Amendment, this documentary explores the wide scope of film censorship from a variety of perspectives. To frame this history, the producers focus on three of the most influential U.S. Supreme Court cases in film censorship history. Emmons describes the effects of these cases this way: “The first declared that film is not protected by the First Amendment, the second reversed this decision, and the third essentially put a nail in the ‘censoring coffin’ by ending state-run censor boards and declaring that a rating board could only approve a film and had no power to ban a film.”
The world premiere of Sickies Making Films took place at Montana’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on February 22nd, and the next screening will be at the Garden State Film Festival in New Jersey on March 25th.
Tess Wilson works in the Job and Career Education Center at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and at the Carnegie Free Library of Swissvale. Her writing can be found on the YALSA Blog, and on the Carnegie Library’s blog. She is a collector of everything from big dictionaries to small rocks, and her latest acquisitions were an MFA in Creative Writing of Poetry from Chatham University and an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh. Find her on Twitter @tesskwg.