In December 1985 the CCR filed suit on behalf of a number of documentary filmmakers whose films were denied “certificates of educational character” for political reasons by the United States Information Agency ( USIA) . Such certificates are granted pursuant to an international treaty designed to facilitate the free flow of ideas among nations. Obtaining a certificate is important because the treaty exempts certified documentaries from customs duties and other import restrictions. Without such certificates international distribution of films is substantially hindered.
The suit, filed in a Los Angeles federal district court, charges the USIA with using the certification process in a politically biased manner to prevent certain films from being seen abroad. Those films which the USIA views as critical of U.S. policies and practices, particularly on the topics of nuclear war, environmental problems, and Central America, have been denied certificates of educational character on the ground that they “present a point of view.”
Yet, industry-sponsored films on similar subjects, such as the Edison Electric Institute’s 7b Catch a Cloud: A Thoughtful Look at Acid Rain, have been granted certificates.
With the threat of a lawsuit on the horizon, the USIA granted certificates to a number of films made by the CCR’s clients. These films include Soldier Girls, Radiation: lmpact on Life, Secret Agent, and The Last Resort.
Films which have been denied certificates include: In Our Own Backyards: Uranium Mining in the U.S., From the Ashes. . . Nicaragua Today, Ecocide: A Strategy of War, Whatever happened to Childhood? and Peace: A Conscious Choice. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the certification system under which the USIA utilizes an international treaty designed to further the free flow of ideas as a mechanism for censorship and propaganda.
David Cole, Margaret Ratner, Michael Ratner; Morton Stavis, with CCR cooperating attorney Ben Margolis