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The true story of a handful of Mormon movie buffs and their efforts to clean up Hollywood hits (and make money doing it) are chronicled in this documentary from filmmakers Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi. In Utah, a state where a significant number of residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, a number of video store owners found it difficult to find popular films that their customers would find suitable for family viewing. One shop stepped forward with the notion of creating edited versions of recent hits, with nudity, adult language, drug use and violence clipped out using digital editing software. Calling their product "Cleanflix," the sanitized versions of titles such as Titanic, The Big Lebowski and The Matrix were an immediate success, and a number of other Utah video stores followed suit. However, when Cleanflix and similar services began making their product available via mail order and the internet, not everyone was happy about it. The studios that owned the copyrights on the original films filed suit against the edited video services, asserting they were selling films that were not rightfully theirs, and a number of leading filmmakers (including Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese) launched a well-publicized campaign against movies being edited by outside parties for commercial use. Some of the edited movie dealers continued to operate in defiance of legal injunctions, though one found himself involved in a most unexpected scandal. Cleanflix was an official selection at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
This is a crazy story with a sad ending. It's the story of people who truly thought they were doing the right thing, and a legal thing, but who (ironically) were ultimately brought down at the hands of the film industry that was supplying their product.
Despite the title, most of the movie is not about the Cleanflix corporate entity, but about one man, Daniel Thompson, who was involved in the edited movies movement, both under the Cleanflix umbrella and out from under it, for a number of years. Daniel was a very vocal advocate for the movement, and he truly went down with the ship - I'll leave it to the viewer to watch the film and find out how.
Was what the movie editors doing legal? I'm not sure that was ever adequately determined, but as Daniel continues to press his luck in more and more creative ways through the course of the film, it stops being about what is legal and starts seeming to be more and more about what is morally right. The interesting dichotomy comes to the forefront in interviews with some of the edited movies customers. Why would a guy who says he is opposed to graphic violence even be interested in movies like "Goodfellas" and the Godfather series? And, if there is a moral problem with watching a movie made by a corrupt film industry which refuses to issue cleaned-up versions of its product, how is it okay to pay money for their product even if it has been sanitized after the fact? The edited movie industry always operated under the premise that one copy was purchased from Hollywood for every copy sold. Buying a cleanflix copy of a movie still (in theory) sent money to the film studio that put the sex, profanity, and violence in the movie in the first place.
I was aware of the edited movie phenomenon while it was going on; I never purchased an edited movie, but for a while I was a ClearPlay customer, and I did enjoy being able to watch certain movies with my kids present that I would not have watched otherwise. It was interesting to finally be able to get some of the back story of Cleanflix and their copycats and hangers-on, and see some of the connections I was not aware of, such as the genesis of the idea being based on teachings of the Mormon church. I wouldn't call this a spectacular film, and I came out of it wondering about certain elements of the chronology (how did Daniel's incident with the teenage girls occur inside his store after his store was already closed down permanently?), but it's certainly an interesting story. If you have any interest in the movement Cleanflix was part of, definitely take a look.