Michael Moore and his distributors lost their appeal Tuesday to lower the R rating for "Fahrenheit 9/11," his scathing assault on President George W. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The R rating prohibits those 17 and younger from seeing "Fahrenheit 9/11" without an adult. Lions Gate Films and IFC Films, the movie's distributors, said an appeals board for the Motion Picture Association of America rejected their request to reduce the rating to PG-13.
Moore urged younger teenagers to go see the film anyway. "I encourage all teenagers to come see my movie, by any means necessary. If you need me to sneak you in, let me know," he said.
"Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top honor at last month's Cannes Film Festival, depicts the White House as asleep at the wheel before the Sept. 11 attacks. Moore accuses Bush of fanning fears of future terrorism to win public support for the Iraq war.
The movie was rated R for "violent and disturbing images and for language." The images include an Iraqi man tossing a dead baby into a truckload of bodies, Iraqis burned by napalm and a public beheading in Saudi Arabia.
"Today was a classic example of how the ratings system works to benefit parents, for whom the ratings system was designed," MPAA chief Jack Valenti said.
Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, had argued to the appeals board that 15- and 16-year-olds should be free to see the film on their own because they could end up in military service in Iraq in the next few years.
"I hope the R rating doesn't have a large impact on the box office," Ortenberg said. "I've spoken with many parents, including some on the appeals board, who absolutely said they are going to take their children to see the film. We'll just have to hope the teenagers we're encouraging to see this picture find their way in through parents or adult guardians."
"Fahrenheit 9/11" opens in limited release in New York on Wednesday and nationwide in about 850 theaters Friday.
Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films, said the R rating could reduce the film's theatrical revenues by 10 to 20 percent.
The distributors had hoped the appeals board "would step back and see the bigger picture and importance of this film, and one of the key audiences that this film should be seen by," Sehring said. "Some of the images are disturbing, but in a year or two, if kids are off to war, they're going to be faced with those disturbing images for real."
Last-minute challenges to movie ratings are not uncommon, said MPAA spokesman Richard Taylor. The timing depends on how soon before theatrical release the movie is presented to the MPAA for initial rating, he said.
Films are rated by a panel of parents or those with parenting experience. If a distributor challenges the rating, it is screened for an appeals board of Hollywood workers, which also hears oral arguments from the distributor.
The ratings squabble follows Moore's dispute with Disney, which refused to let its Miramax subsidiary distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11," arguing that the movie is too politically charged.
Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought back the film from Disney and lined up Lions Gate and IFC to help release it.
By David Germain