Yesterday Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), spoke at the National Press Club, which prepared movie poster cookies in his honor. As a member of the club who writes about movies, I was invited to watch from the head table. Dodd, who was a Connecticut Senator for 30 years (his father also represented Connecticut in the Senate), now runs the trade association for the film industry, which includes lobbying Congress and the Senate on matters like piracy and copyright and assigning ratings from G to NC-17. He spoke eloquently on “why movies matter.” As an art form, he said, it is a “spectacular convergence” of visual arts, language arts, and music, attracting some of the most talented people in the world who want to paint on one of the largest and most stimulating canvases ever created. They “tell stories that help us make sense of our world” and are “a vehicle to raise awareness of social and political issues.”
He emphasized the importance of the movie and television production industry to the US economy. There is a 7 to one export/import ratio, higher than in any other sector. “For every unfathomably rich and beautiful star” there are thousands of people who are employed by the industry, more than 2 million, who have careers, not just jobs, many of which are good paying jobs even for those without a college degree. Also, movies brand America in the eyes of the world, communicating our openness and opportunity. He quoted one man who told him that he did not agree with much of what the US does, but had to admire the way our filmmakers are so open in their own critiques of America and its policies. “Your movies examine, ridicule, and challenge public institutions — and get awards for it!”
And he said that every movie is hand-crafted. Movies also inspire unique technological breakthroughs. Ang Lee had to wait 12 years from the time he first wanted to make “Life of Pi” into movie until the technology could be developed to make it work.
Dodd spoke of the need to balance the “free and open internet,” which he supports, with protection of intellectual property. “Free and open cannot be synonymous with working for free.”
Asked about the responsibility the movie industry bears for its portrayal of violence and the impact that has on audiences, especially children and teenagers, he said with evident feeling that Newtown affected him personally — he once represented the Sandy Hook community. And Connecticut is the seventh largest producer of guns. “It is not an abstraction to me.” But his comments were on the abstract side — along the lines of “we of course want to be part of the conversation,” emphasizing the “slippery slope” of content regulation, and pointing to the lack of support for the mentally ill and their families as a more important problem. “We provide choice. Not every movie is for everyone.” The MPAA supports educating the audience about the tools it already makes available for control. Similarly, he was not willing to commit to any overhaul of the MPAA’s unnecessarily obscure, inconsistent, and biased toward the big studios ratings system. He also dodged specifics in answering questions about privacy and copyright extension.