Chalmette Movies, a locally owned independent cinema, is among a limited number of U.S. theaters that will show “The Interview” starting Christmas Day, the original planned release date of the North Korean farce that has stirred an international controversy.
Sony Pictures Entertainment had planned to release the movie in the face of threats from hackers, who leaked Sony executives’ emails and threatened terrorist attacks against theaters showing the film. That led multiplex chains to drop “The Interview,” which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as American TV journalists on a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Sony quickly canceled its release altogether.
But the company began softening its position after it was broadly criticized, by President Barack Obama among a chorus of others. Then, on Tuesday, “The Interview” began popping up in the listings of independent theaters across the country, including Chalmette Movies and Hollywood Cinemas 7 in LaPlace.
The unusual release will give indie theaters a chance to debut the most talked-about movie in the country.
Ellis Fortinberry, general manager and film booker at Chalmette Movies, said Sony Pictures called him Tuesday to ask if he still wished to show “The Interview.” He immediately said yes.
Chalmette Movies, which typically programs a mix of major studio releases and independent and foreign films, always intended to play the film, Fortinberry said Tuesday.
“Even when the big chains had pulled out, we were going to stand by the booking,” he said. “It’s a matter of free speech.”
He added: “Chalmette Movies always plays things out of the ordinary. So when Sony called us, we wanted to go ahead and play ‘The Interview.’ I guess that’s one of the perks of not being a corporation. We sometimes can make different decisions.”
Sony CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that Sony eventually hopes to release the film on more platforms and in more theaters.
“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview,’ ” Lynton said in a statement. “While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”
Sony’s decision to allow the film to be released was hailed widely, including by Obama, who had criticized the company’s decision to cave in to threats.
“The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” said Obama spokesman Eric Schultz. “As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”
White House officials declined to elaborate on what role, if any, the White House played in Sony’s decision to reverse itself.
The about-face also brought cheers from the film’s creators. Rogen, who stars in the film he co-directed with Evan Goldberg, made his first public comments in the surreal ordeal, which began with hackers leaking Sony executives’ emails and culminated in an ongoing confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea.
The FBI has said North Korea was behind the hacking attacks.
“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!” Rogen said on Twitter.
“VICTORY!!!!!!!” said James Franco, who co-stars in the film. “The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken.”
North Korea’s Internet was shut down for several hours in an apparent attack Monday and continued to be roiled by intermittent outages Tuesday. That followed Obama’s vow of a response to what he called North Korea’s “cyber vandalism” of Sony. The White House and State Department have declined to say whether the U.S. government was responsible for North Korea’s outages.
Releasing “The Interview” could potentially cause a response from the hackers, who called themselves the Guardians of Peace. In a message last week to the studio, the hackers said Sony’s data would be safe so long as the film was never distributed.
A limited release could potentially be followed by expansion into larger multiplex chains, a type of rollout that has been used in the past for controversial films including “Zero Dark Thirty.” The country’s top chains — Regal Cinemas, AMC Theatres and Cinemark Theatres — didn’t comment Tuesday.
Sony did not immediately say how many theaters will show the film, but “The Interview” will open in far from the wide release originally planned on up to 3,000 screens.
In recent days, Sony has been trying to secure digital partners to help distribute “The Interview” either through streaming or video-on-demand. Such a multiformat release would be historic for Hollywood, whose studios have long protected the theatrical release window.
When Sony pulled “The Interview” last week, Chalmette Movies was forced to scramble for a replacement film. Fortinberry booked the Oscar-contender drama “The Theory of Everything” instead. Both films will play now.
Chalmette Movies owner Wendeslaus Schulz is pleased that “The Interview” will show at his theater after all.
“We expect a good turnout because nobody else is playing it in New Orleans, as far as we know,” he said.
“The Interview” will show at Chalmette Movies on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Starting Friday, it will screen daily at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Another Louisiana cineplex, Celebrity Theatres Broussard 10 near Lafayette, may also decide to show “The Interview.”
This story contains material from the Associated Press.