There's very little difference between director Larry Clark's world of six years ago and today. Both then (with Kids) and now (with the just-released Bully), he brought to the public a film depicting — in harrowing reality — the sordid life of an isolated group of teens. And both times, the Motion Picture Association of America compelled him to release his work unrated.

"There's always a battle with my films," Clark admits with a slightly exasperated yet accepting laugh. "If we were a big studio with a lot of money and big stars, Bully would get an R-rating. But since this is a small independent film, and since we're trying to reflect reality — whatever "reality" is — the board said 'No.'"

In fact, the MPAA issued back an unusually colorful denial. "When we asked them what we could or should do to get an R, they sent back a fax saying, 'Our recommendation is "Hide your children."' Hide your children! I said, 'Wow, I don't think we have a chance!'"

Indeed, Clark's latest celluloid controversy — based on the true story of doomed Florida tough Bobby Kent — found itself bullying its way to the moviehouse from the get-go. After producer Don Murphy, inspired by the book on which Bully is based, secured studio backing, the Columbine, Colo., school tragedy took place. That real-world dose of all-too-real violence effectively impeded Bully's progression. "Everybody backed away from it," says Clark. "I don't know what the thinking was. Maybe someone will see it and kids will start killing kids? That movies will get blamed for the violence in America? And Congress and the President will come down on Hollywood again?

"I'm proud of the film," the director adds. "We've done something that feels right, and feels a little more real than a lot of the stuff that you see out there."

As for his detractors, those who repeatedly choose to stand in the way of his vivid, slice-of-life offerings, Clark says, "There are plenty of films for those people. Why do I have to make films like that? I'm just trying to make films, and I'll do more films and different kinds of films." Then, he adds, laughing: "Maybe I'll do a musical comedy next. Who knows?"