Indie Documentary Examines Film Censorship

Archives, Censorship, First Amendment

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.”

Strip of sepia-colored film held by two hands.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 WilsonTess 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.

One thought on “Indie Documentary Examines Film Censorship

  • Well, in terms of college and corporate censorship, we have to remember that the US government does very little censorship so other actors have to act. 1) In terms of corporations, they are at risk for litigation. In reviewing James Damore memo, it was fine for the National Review but not in a corporate setting. It gives Exhibit A in every sex discrimination suit for the next ten years. (TBH I suspect James Damore goal is become a conservative pundit hero, the next James O”Keefe, not to correct liberal thought.) 2) In terms of diversity, it is reasonable for Hollywood and tech to be very careful supporting diversity. Have you seen the foreign grosses on Marvel movies and US dominated global diversity sells big? (I am surprised Trump”s Hotels have not been with more protest although his Panama hotel is an interesting case study.) I am in the middle of corporation and I have numerous calls with foreign co-workers and customers. 3) In the office, it is best to remember people don”t care about your political theories. And I have had customers bring up political opinions (pro-Trump after the election) and it is best to nod your head and switch to the business at hand. 4) I think there are issues here, but this university stuff is becoming a conservative hobby horse. And a lot of conservatives including Jordan Peterson have benefited from being anti-PC. It is not like a young university can”t listen to Rush Limbaugh rants on the radio.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.