The Alberta government is revamping the Amusement Act, which governs the way films are rated in this province and sets up age requirements for viewing movies with adult content. Presently, a panel at the Alberta Film Commission, a governmental body, rates theatre films, while rentals are classified based on the average rating of a film nationwide. The current range of classifications are: General (G), think Walt Disney; Parental Guidance (PG), contains bloodless fighting or sexual innuendos; under-14 requires adult accompaniment (14A), has lots of swearing, relatively bloodless fighting or perceived sexual activity (what's happening under those sheets!?); under-18 requires adult accompaniment (18A), movies with drug use, excessive gore (i.e. surgery with a hacksaw) or crude sexual material (there's thrusting going on); restricted to 18 and over (R), graphic anything basically; and finally Adult or XXX for the layman.
While we rarely see an R-rated movie in theatres, movies with an 18A classification are common. Undoubtedly, many under-18 do attend these movies with an adult, but apparently there is a growing problem of unaccompanied youth viewing 18A films. While there are no statistics for Alberta, there were a number of complaints in Ontario. In one year, out of an estimated 30 million theatre admissions in Ontario, 12 people (possibly the same person 12 times) complained about youth viewing 18A films. Alberta's solution to this perceived threat is Bill-18, which will disallow kids under 14 in to 18A films even if an adult is present. To enforce the new rules, Alberta's Culture Minister will hire movie inspectors with the authority to fine theatre staff and companies for violations, in addition to confiscating films ("Movie Police! Now hand over the tape nice and slow like!"). An executive director position, dubbed "film czar" in the press, will also be created with the power to unilaterally classify or reclassify films.
The number of problems and lapses in common sense associated with Bill-18 are only attainable by government. If kids under 14 are able to get into 18A movies now, how will things change with the new law? Theatre staff will have to demand photo ID from everyone who looks under 18, even if a parent is present, which will no doubt lead to angry and frustrated parents in the ticket lines. How many of you had government issued photo ID before you turned 16? ("Okay, off to the movies. Money, check. Snacks hidden in pocket, check. Passport, check.") Furthermore, if a film is considered so psychologically damaging that the government feels it must decide for parents whether a child under 14 can view the film, why not just rate the film R? The most ridiculous of all is the film czar position. Now this is a job I want. Sit around watching movies and rating them without the risk of anyone being able to question your decisions, all the while earning a fat government pay cheque. The influence of the classification of a movie on its commercial success at the box office is no secret. Giving this power to one person just screams a) for under the table bribes for a favourable rating, b) for indirect censorship based on the individual's personal tastes, c) a gigantic waste of money, d) all of the above.
Exposing minors to graphic violence, sex and language is not a trivial issue, but we already have inspectors for just this thing: parents. The issue would be better addressed by running a public awareness campaign to educate or remind parents about the effects graphic material can have on young people. If more inspectors are needed anywhere, or a czar of anything created, the effort should be put towards a larger and more pressing issue, like regulating the development of the tar sands. Perhaps if there were more inspectors around last April, Syncrude's noise makers would have been active and prevented the deaths of 500 ducks. But then, a 13-year-old seeing some big screen nipples is more of a concern. Think I am being a bit too facetious? The maximum fine a theatre would face for letting someone under 14 view an 18A movie with his or her parent will be $100,000. The maximum fine Syncrude faces under Alberta's Environment Protection and Enhancement Act is $500,000. Yeah, that seems balanced.