By Xander Balwit
Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)
After most large theater chains decided showing “The Interview” might lead to a violent backlash, its fate was in the hands of many small independent theaters to decide if showing the film was integral to free speech. “The Interview,” a political satire comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, has sparked a massive controversy about the merits of protecting free speech, even if it potentially antagonizes North Korea to the point of violent backlash.
The Art House Convergence, similar to a union for independent cinemas, stated that many of their member theaters were committed to defending civil liberties and showing the film.
“We stand in solidarity with Sony and offer our support to them in defense of artistic integrity and personal freedoms; freedoms which represent our nation’s great ability to effect change and embrace diversity of opinion,” stated the Art House.
The Hollywood Theater in Portland is one of the member theaters of the alliance. The programs shown at the small southeast non-profit theater are eclectic. From playing new releases and running old “blacksploitation” films, the Hollywood Theater has fulfilled a commitment to showing all sorts of fractious films whether or not they are politically provocative.
“The Interview,” a political satire comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, has sparked a massive controversy about the merits of protecting free speech, even if it potentially antagonizes North Korea to the point of violent backlash.
The release of the film has been turbulent. It was originally set to be released summer of 2014, but due to threats from North Korea, the release was pushed back to Christmas before it was reconsidered again. The final verdict from SONY, along with the Department of Homeland Security, was that the choice to the show “The Interview” would be up the discretion of individual theaters.
Theaters were forced to measure the revenue they might gain from the showing of such a high-interest film against their concerns about the legitimacy of the threats made against the movie and the theaters that showed it.
In a BBC article about the North Korea’s reaction, one of their Foreign Ministry spokesperson denounced the movie as “a blatant act of terrorism and war.” North Korea’s stance of the movie is obvious, while the division over which U.S theaters would choose to show “The Interview” is more representational of the feelings that American’s have about this movie.
American ideals about freedom of speech are being run up against fear of violent backlash.
Many larger theater chains unsurprisingly opted out of running the film. An article in the Hollywood Reporter contains Regal Cinema’s public statement on why they choose not to run the film, “Due to the wavering support of the film, ‘The Interview’ by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres.” Ultimately “delay” morphed into cancel.
However, the alliance theatres also had something to say.
“My decision to book the film was based on my firm belief that no film should be censored. As soon as someone says a film can’t be shown, I believe that it’s our responsibility to present that movie to the public,” stated head programmer Dan Halsted about the choice to show “The Interview” at the Hollywood Theater.
The Hollywood Theater didn’t discredit the rumors of threats against theaters that ran the movie however. CatlinSpeak asked theater director Doug Whyte what kind of conversation went on in the theater before showing the fraught film.
“We felt it was our duty to not buy into the fear of empty threats. Of course, we did our due diligence and talked to the Portland Police and met with the local FBI. They assured us that none of the threats were credible and gave us some tips to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary,” Whyte responded.
The choice to release “The Interview” might be one of the most fractious in recent entertainment history. While the fear that large theater chains might be targeted kept them from screening the movie, small theaters such as the Hollywood would not endure censorship.
Whyte and Halsted concluded that it was a good choice. The Hollywood Theater sold out on Christmas and was packed every other showing.
“No issues ever came up and the community appreciated the fact that we made a stand against fear,” Whyte added.