Sony and large theater chains may be backtracking now about 'The Interview', after wimping out about releasing it, but small, independent movie houses have shown more savvy this week by forging ahead with plans to show the Seth Rogen comedy on Christmas Day.
That's particularly true in Texas, and other parts of the South, where decisions to show the film have proved to be a boon to business, as well as something of a free speech issue. The Lone Star State has nearly 30 movie houses queued up to show the controversial, though critically panned film starting tomorrow, led by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin. But the Atlanta Plaza Theater, in Atlanta, is also making plans, with workers reportedly putting up signs that say: "Freedom Prevails."
The controversy over The Interview began Thanksgiving week, when hackers, allegedly from North Korea, broke into Sony's computer systems, dumping several of the studio's unreleased films on public websites and leaking embarrassing emails from company executives. Hackers also threatened to violently retaliate against movie theaters that showed the film. The Interview is a fictional account of journalists who travel to North Korea and plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the country's dictator.
Among the first movie houses to jump at the opportunity for showing the film was Alamo Drafthouse, which owns theaters throughout Texas. Here's what entrepreneur and owner Tim League had to say in a statement on Tuesday:
We cannot imagine the pressures that have been affecting Sony, at all levels of the organization they have been under attack. Amidst this unwarranted chaos, they have regrouped and listened to the public, the government and the exhibition community and responded with resolve and determination. At 10:45 a.m., Sony bookers approved screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and other arthouse and independent theaters across the country. This is the best Christmas gift anyone could give us. We, both distributors and exhibitors, have collectively stood firm to our principles and for the right to freedom of expression. Two days til Christmas, and I am proud to be an American.
By Wednesday, Alamo's Twitter account was already trumpeting sold-out shows for Thursday.
President Obama had criticized Sony's decision to cancel the film's release. On Tuesday, Sony agreed to a limited release of the film to theaters. And on Wednesday, Sony said it would also release the film online. Here's what Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Entertainment had to say about that:
We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day. At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.
Over the weekend, North Korea experienced a total blackout of its Internet services, which some speculated was a U.S. retaliation for the hack attack, which North Korea has denied. The U.S. has denied involvement in the blackout.
Meanwhile, small theater operators are happy to take a stand.
“What Sony didn’t expect was that a large collection of independent theaters could help pick up the slack around the country,” Jason Reimer, owner of the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, Texas told The Dallas Morning Post on Tuesday. “We were ready and are happy that Sony is allowing independent theaters to step up in this way.”
The Texas Theater is a landmark theater in Oak Cliff, Texas which recently completed a $60,000 Seed & Spark crowdfunding campaign to get a new digital projector.