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'Tillman' doc loses MPAA rating appeal

Despite protests by filmmakers, soldier's story gets R rating

Despite protests by its producer, director and distributor that "The Tillman Story" is an important documentary that should be available to young people, it has lost an appeal to have the Motion Picture Association of America change its R rating to PG-13.

Producer John Battsek and director Amir Bar Lev made a personal appeal Thursday in Los Angeles before the appeals board, which is composed of studio distribution and major exhibition executives, but could not convince them to change the rating. That makes it unlikely that the picture will be made available to young people in schools and through libraries in years to come.

“It comes as a very big disappointment,” said Battsek. “We set out three years ago to make a very truthful film working in tandem with the family. This is almost another mini-blow to the family. It’s like they are being censored for their honesty in the film because the fact is Tillman used the F-word. It's a really big disappointment.”

The Classification and Rating Administration Board was represented at the hearing by chairman Joan Graves.

The feature documentary tells the real-life story of a football player who quit pro sports to serve in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, where he was killed by "friendly fire," shots from other American soldiers. It tells the story of how Tillman's family battled the Army and government to bring out the true story.

The R rating was for "language," in particular a scene in which Tillman, as he is being fired on by fellow American soldiers, says "I'm Pat f---ing Tillman."

Bar Lev said the movie shows Tillman’s “humanity” even if he did “favor the occasional F-bomb,” and that “is not contradictory. Who Pat Tillman was should be taught in schools alongside other great Americans. This sends a message that he is somehow not appropriate for young people, who by the way are subject to ROTC visits in their high schools, but can’t see the film about Pat Tillman.”

Insisting they are not anti-military, Bar Lev said they just want young people to have access to both sides of the story. “This is not an anti-war film,” added Bar Lev. “Weve had very positive response from veterans. People who served in combat don’t like us to celebrate a sanitized version of what they do. It diminishes their heroism.”

Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. is distributing the documentary and will campaign for it during awards season, said he hopes his own teenage daughter sees "Pat's story" along with other young adults. 

“I do not understand this decision,” said Weinstein in a statement. “These ratings need to not only be based on content but also context. This film needs to be viewed as a historical document that can serve as a learning tool in schools across the country.”

"The Tillman Story" opens in theaters on limited basis in New York and Los Angeles on Aug. 20 and expands its run Sept. 3.