June 23, 2004 09:15 AM

Michael Moore’s controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 opens in limited engagements Wednesday and goes wide on Friday – but it was dealt a setback by the Motion Picture Association of America on Tuesday, when the ratings group upheld its decision to give the movie an “R” rating.

As such, moviegoers under 17 will be restricted from seeing Moore’s take on President George W. Bush and his Iraq policy, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Still, the movie, which took the top prize at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, has a must-see feel to it, and in an unprecedented move for a political documentary, is booked into 868 screens come Friday, reports Reuters.

“I’m sure that exhibitors listening to customers has been borne out in terms of the number of theatres that have booked the film,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films, which, with Lions Gate Films, picked up distribution rights to the Miramax film after the studio’s parent, the Walt Disney Company, withdrew support.

In seeking a PG-13 rating, which would have allowed in teens (while suggesting parental guidance), Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate, said: “The images in the film are no more disturbing than what we have been seeing and, frankly, should be seeing on network news since the Vietnam war.”

He added: “It is perfectly appropriate for 15- and 16-year-olds who are going to be asked to fight in this war or the next war to see what war is really like.”

Defending his group’s decision, MPAA chief Jack Valenti told the Associated Press on Tuesday: “Today was a classic example of how the ratings system works to benefit parents, for whom the ratings system was designed.”

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