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Chuck Wing, Deseret Morning News
Alex Niver, left, and Ben Gourley perform during filming of "Saints and Soldiers" in a canyon near Alpine in 2003.

War is violent. Still, the moviemakers and distributor behind the Utah-made independent film "Saints and Soldiers" were shocked this week when the Motion Picture Association of America gave the World War II drama an R rating.

The film tells the fictional story of several men — one of whom is LDS — who escape the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge.

"This ruling concerns us immensely," said Jeff Simpson, president of the Excel Entertainment Group (distributors of "God's Army," "Brigham City" and "Charly," among others), which will release "Saints and Soldiers" into theaters later this year. "We are very sensitive to the different audiences for this film and know full well that an R rating is unacceptable to certain segments of the audience. This is a movie about war, and so there will be a certain level of violence. But we believe this film has handled that tastefully and with integrity."

Simpson said he and the filmmakers will continue to work with the MPAA during an appeals process that allows ratings to be contested. A 13-member board hears an initial appeal, with a two-thirds majority required to change the rating.

"A majority agreed that the rating should be changed, but we didn't get the two-thirds," said Adam Abel, one of the producers of "Saints and Soldiers," adding that the film will now go back to the full board for review. "We will look at their suggested changes, but we will not harm the integrity of the film."

The movie contains no foul language and has no sexual content, he said, and the violence is far less frequent and graphic than is found in many PG-13 films. "In test screenings around the country, 95 percent of the parents said they thought the movie should be rated PG-13."

Before filming started, Abel and director Ryan Little researched PG-13 movies, particularly war movies. "And then we pulled back even from that level of violence. So this rating is hard to understand."

The intent, said Abel, was to make a movie that parents and grandparents could watch with their teens, which would help teens see the consequences of war and appreciate the sacrifices their grandparents made.

"I'm so optimistic about this movie," said Simpson. "I so stand behind the morality and integrity of the film. The MPAA doesn't give ratings based on morality. But this is a very, very moral film. It is less violent than 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Pearl Harbor,' both of which got a PG-13 rating. We told the board not to confuse their emotional attachment to the characters with the intensity of violence."

There are tremendous stories associated with war; stories that can uplift and inspire, said Abel. "This puts us in an interesting position because a lot of judgments will be made on our behalf, not knowing our intentions or how we live in accordance with our standards. We are proud of this film. Its message is a message for everyone."

"Saints and Soldiers" has won best feature and/or audience-choice awards at 12 film festivals across the country during the past few months. It received the Grand Prize at the Heartland Film Festival, which specifically recognizes "filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life." The film also received acclaim from members of the armed forces at Pearl Harbor during the Hawaii International Film Festival.

"I'm confident," said Simpson, "that in the end, the film will get the rating it deserves."