EXCLUSIVE: When filmmakers appeal ratings and try to measure themselves against ratings given other films, the MPAA generally refuses to engage in those comparisons. So the MPAA ratings board today shot down an appeal by Oscilloscope Laboratories to rescind the “R” rating given the Holocaust documentary A Film Unfinished. It was upheld in a just-concluded appeals hearing by a 12-3 vote. Oscilloscope, the indie distribution company founded by Beastie Boys co-founder Adam Yauch, acquired the film at Sundance. He expressed outrage earlier this week when told that the film got an R rating for “disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity.” Oscilloscope’s appeal today included an impassioned argument by director Yael Hersonski to judge the nudity in the film from a historical and educational standpoint. A letter was presented by Warsaw Ghetto survivor Hana Avrutzky, and an argument was also made that the film should be judged similarly to the Steven Spielberg-produced 1998 documentary The Last Days, which drew a PG-13 rating despite featuring a mass execution and nudity in its depiction of the humiliation and atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.

A Film Unfinished documents an unfinished Nazi propaganda film shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. Discovered in East German archives after WWII, it has been a resource for historians trying to paint a picture of the transit point before Jews were deported to concentration camps. The original film was staged, but the documentary features the raw footage shot to make that propaganda film. It provides a stark contrast and gives a glimpse of how Jews were actually treated by Nazis in the Ghetto, and how propaganda films were employed to cover things up.  Yauch, who feels the rating could hinder the  documentary’s use as an educational tool, remains incensed.

“In a world where young people are bombarded with meaningless entertainment, it’s unfortunate that a film with real educational and historic value would be denied to them by an organization that is supposed to be working to help them,” Yauch said in a statement. “I still have hope that the MPAA will reconsider at some point in the future, so young people will be able to learn from this film.”

The film will be released August 18 in New York and two days later in L.A., followed by a national roll-out. Despite the setback the film certainly has an awareness level it didn’t before the rating situation flared up. Here is a trailer for the documentary: