Note: The following interview was conducted during the 57th Berlinale, where Itty Bitty Titty Committee had its World Premiere in the fest's Panorama section. This week, during its North American premiere at SXSW, the film took home a Jury Award for narrative feature.

Directed by Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader), Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a politically-charged romantic dramedy which focuses on a girl named Hannah (Melanie Diaz) who finds her boring, ordinary life flipped upside down upon meeting Sadie (Nicole Vicious), leader of the CiA (or Clits in Action) -- a group of radical feminists who attempt to spread their message in some unique (and often dangerously illegal) ways.

This is familiar territory for Babbit, who dealt with similar themes in But I'm a Cheerleader -- a film, mind you, that she originally received an NC-17 rating for. With some pretty steamy (yet tame) lesbian sex and characters who attempt to blow up a national monument, Cinematical sat down with Jamie (as well as cast members Nicole Vicious, Daniela Sea, Joel Michaely and producer Lisa Thrasher) to learn more about Itty Bitty Titty Committee and whether Jamie (who appeared in the pic This Film is Not Yet Rated) was worried her latest would face similar ratings problems.

Cinematical: First off, I love the title for this film; I think it's awesome. Where did it come from?

Jamie Babbit: Actually, the title came from Guinevere Turner (who plays Marcy the reporter). It was her idea, and so we incorporated it into the film.

More after the jump ...


Cinematical: How long have you been working on the film? And what were some of the things that inspired you to make it?

Jamie Babbit: We've been working on the movie for two years; writing the script, filming, editing it and all that stuff. So, for about two years ... but there were about five years before that when we were just bouncing ideas around. Some of the things that inspired me to make the movie were The Guerrilla Girls, which was like a feminist group in the early 90's, but they're still around. They do political actions -- they wear gorilla masks -- and they try to talk to the art world, and protest the art world, for not having enough female artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or different places. The other inspiration was the music from the Pacific Northwest -- like Bikini Grill, Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, Peaches -- their music really inspired me. And it's super political, fun and danceable. So yeah, the music ... and also living through it myself. In my early twenties, I was like a CiA (which stands for Clits in Action -- the fictional feminist group from the film) type -- I didn't engage in the extreme actions that these girls do, but I was definitely into political consciousness.

Cinematical: That also brings me to another question: Jamie, I know you have a story credit on Itty Bitty -- I'm not sure how involved you were in writing the screenplay -- but I know most writers will put themselves into the story in some way, shape or form. Are you anyone in the movie?

Jamie Babbitt: I'd say the character I'm closest to is Hannah, the lead girl. Having been a girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio to taking Woman's Studies classes in New York, and getting sucked up in groups like Act Up and seeing the Guerilla Girls in the early 90's -- I definitely related most to her character and her transformation. But there's definitely a little piece of me in all the characters.

Cinematical: What I found the most interesting is that you go and make this politically-charged movie, but surround it with a very Hollywood-ized story. Did you do that so it would be easier for the audience to get the message?

Jamie Babbit: I got a lot of these same questions after But I'm a Cheerleader, because that was also a very political movie about homosexual rehabilitation, but I made a campy comedy with a Hollywood ending. My whole thing is that films can be like Trojan horses; if you dress them up in a certain way and get them out to people so that they actually have fun and enjoy it -- but at the same time walk away with this political message in their head. One of the things I always try to do is make movies that are super political, but also super palatable. That combination, I believe, is actually more radical.

Cinematical: So this way people walk away from the film feeling chipper, and then realize that they're now seeing the world differently because of it.

Jamie Babbit: Exactly! They'll see the Washington Monument, and they'll never look at it the same way again. It's the kind of brainwashing that happens -- and the CiA (Clits in Action) talks about this -- every day we're surrounded by all these images and these things that make girls feel like crap about themselves. The thing about Itty Bitty is that you get all these weird messages and you don't even notice it. Then, you go out the next day and all of a sudden you start thinking a little bit differently. That's how you change hearts and minds.

Cinematical: Okay, so you set out to create a Hollywood-ized story, but at the same time you have characters who attempt to blow up the Washington Monument and include some pretty graphic sex scenes. Were you afraid at all to push those boundaries knowing that it could cost you a "safer" rating?

Jamie Babbit: Right. Well, I didn't want to push the sex scenes too much -- they're somewhat tame, but also steamy. I do hope I get an R rating; an R rating is very important to me. We haven't gone to the ratings board yet; I did get an NC-17 originally on But I'm a Cheerleader, and I participated in the film This Film is Not Yet Rated trying to change it. Because I thought it was really screwed up that I got an NC-17 on Cheerleader. So I do worry about this film, but I'm hoping that the MPAA is scared of me a little bit because of that movie, so maybe they'll cut me some slack on this one. {laughs}

Cinematical: Actually, that was one of my questions -- go figure! Now, because you were part of This Film in Not Yet Rated, obviously you have something to say about the whole ratings snafu. In your opinion, what should be changed right now?

Jamie Babbit: Well, obviously they've made some changes recently, but I don't think their changes have gone far enough. I think they've passed the buck. Because, basically what they've said is we're going to encourage movie theaters to accept NC-17 -- which movie theaters aren't going to do. So, what the MPAA needs to realize is that there's lots of different people out in the world -- that this movie is a very political movie that's also fun, and it's made for kids. It's made for young people to help them view political action as being "cool." And, young people should see this film. So, to give a movie like this an NC-17 rating would be so unfair, because this is the kind of movie that's trying to change the country in the right way. But instead, they're letting films like Saw III get an R -- which is a good movie -- but it's not a movie that's going to change the world.

Producer Lisa Thrasher: I think that's the biggest disparity in the ratings system. That violence of all kind, destroying a person is acceptable. But, creating a person or creating love -- bonding two people together -- is dangerous territory. I think that's a very sad perspective.

Joel Michaely: The MPAA also has a double standard. It's okay to show a man and woman having sex, and to show a woman's breasts, or if there's nudity involved, then that's okay. But if it's a same sex sexual act -- as in Itty Bitty Titty -- we might have some problems.

Cinematical: So, what's the solution here? Do we change the name of NC-17 or abolish it all together?

Jamie Babbit: No, I think what they should do -- and this is what This Film is Not Yet Rated talks about -- is expanding what an R is. An R means restricted, so I think you should be able to have two girls making out or two guys making out -- ya know, that should be restricted. That shouldn't be NC-17. The world is changing, kids accept that stuff now, as they should. And the problem is that the people who are on the ratings board are people living in Orange County who don't have a clue -- they don't even have kids. They need to realize that the world is different, that it's important to teach kids tolerance. And the only way you're going to teach them tolerance is by showing them all different kinds of love and acceptance.

Cinematical: We've talked about the strong political message in the film; if a young girl walks out of it and wants to get involved, but doesn't know how, what can she do?

Jamie Babbit: Ya know, there's so many groups out there. The great thing about the internet is that it gives people a place to find others like themselves. So if a young girl is out there and after seeing Itty Bitty wants to do something like this, then go online -- there are so many groups to be a part of. And they all need young people to help them. There's groups exactly like Clits in Action in New York City; I saw a bunch of them signing up. So just google feminism and groups online, and I'm sure you'll find a ton of opportunity out there.

Cinematical: {to Nicole Vicious and Daniela Sea} How did you two get involved in the film?

Nicole Vicious: I auditioned in New York actually, while Jamie was in L.A., and ... that was it. Beyond really enjoying the script -- I mean, it was a great character take on, I really loved Sadie. And, on top of that, to get to work with Jamie Babbit. Having seen But I'm a Cheerleader, it was a great opportunity. And I was really excited to be involved with the whole thing.

Daniela Sea: I met Jamie though a friend of hers who I had worked for, and they had me come in and audition. To me, I knew if Jamie was making it that it was going to be good. And I don't feel that way about most things. Then I really loved the script and it was exciting to me. I also loved the idea that all these women would be working on it. I've just never worked with some many woman all across the board before -- so, to me, that was the most exciting part.

Cinematical: Now Jamie, you have your big-screen passion projects and then your TV gigs. Is this pattern going to continue for you, because I don't see these films as calling cards for you ...

Jamie Babbit: To me, my whole career objective is to make movies that I really care about, that I feel really passionate about and close to. Stuff I would want to see. Maybe I'm kind of a weird girl -- I don't know -- but the stuff I'm going to make is probably stuff that Hollywood is never going to make. I don't just make movies to get a Hollywood movie -- I make movies because I want to express something that I feel that I don't see out there, and that I want to see. But, ya know, I also need to make a living too ... so it's all about balance.

Cinematical: With that said, what's next for you?

Jamie Babbit: There are a bunch of movies that I so really want to make, and I don't really know what's gonna happen next. I"m not sure, but we'll see ...

Cinematical: And why should people go see Itty Bitty Titty Committee?

Jamie Babbit: I think people should see the movie because it's funny, it's political, it's a great love story -- I mean, it has a lot of fun. Sure, it's very political and radical in some ways, but at the same time it's also a fun love story. And with all of that, I think it's a good moviegoing experience.

For more on Itty Bitty Titty Committee, check out James' SXSW review when it goes live, Erik's Berlinale review and Erik's video diary with the same crew featured in this interview.