Art house theaters offer to screen Sony's 'The Interview'

An alliance of independent movie theaters says art house cinemas are willing to screen Sony Pictures' "The Interview," the Kim Jong Un assassination comedy that was pulled from release in the wake of terror threats. 

Art House Convergence, which puts on an annual conference for independent cinemas, posted a petition and open letter to Sony on the website Change.org, expressing support for the beleagured film studio that was crippled by a cyber attack nearly a month ago. The FBI has blamed the North Korean government for the attack. 

"We are at an important crossroads with an opportunity to reaffirm clearly our dedication to the value of freedom and the absolute necessity to keep our film industry free of restriction, censorship and violent intimidation," wrote Russell Collins, the Art House Convergence's director, in the open letter. 

"We implore our fellow exhibitors and our nation of moviegoers to stand up in recognition that freedom of speech and artistic expression are vital not only to the entertainment industry but for all art and commerce worldwide," Collins said.

The group is not alone in calling for the right to distribute "The Interview" after the Culver City studio decided to cancel its planned Christmas Day release. 

"Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin has said his own small theater, the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, N.M., would "be glad" to screen "The Interview," calling the decision not to screen the movie "a stunning display of corporate cowardice." 

Writing on his blog last week, Martin said, there are "thousands of small independent theatres across the country, like my own, that would gladly screen THE INTERVIEW, regardless of the threats from North Korea, but instead of shifting the film to those venues, Sony has canceled its scheduled Christmas rollout entirely."

A spokesman for Sony declined to comment.

The studio previously said it had "no choice" but to change its release plans, and that it is still considering options for how to release the movie. The Culver City studio had no further immediate comment on the statements from the Art House Convergence and Martin. 

On Friday, Sony Pictures' chief executive Michael Lynton told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that Sony "cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters."

"When it came to the crucial moment, when a threat came out from" the hackers "threatening audiences who would go to the movie theaters, the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time ... and announced that they would not carry the movie," Lynton said in the interview that aired Sunday.

Theater owners disagreed with Lynton's characterization of events. Officials of theater companies said that Sony officials early last week told theater executives that they were free to make their own decisions on whether to screen "The Interview" and that the studio would not take actions against them.

Several companies were prepared to show the film, they said, rebutting Lynton's assertion that Sony had no distribution channel.

Sony is still considering options for distributing the film. Some have called on the company to make "The Interview," which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, available through video on demand. 

The co-owner of Laemmle Theaters, which operates seven cinemas in Los Angeles County, said on Monday that he would be open to playing “The Interview.”

“I think we’re all upset with the idea that a bunch of people sitting at their computer screens can do this,” said Greg Laemmle, who signed the Convergence’s petition. “Without the support of the major circuits, it’s going to be very difficult to come up with a release strategy that makes a difference. But I suppose there is some way to put it in movie theaters and show this cannot be stopped.”

Before agreeing to play the film, Laemmle added, he would like to have a better understanding of the validity of the terror threat made last week by the Guardians of Peace, the group claiming responsibility for the cyber attack.

“Obviously, if it’s playing in a few theaters, it becomes easier for anybody who does want to make mischief,” he said. “But it also becomes easier for those who want to defend against that to protect themselves.”

While the movie was intended as a broad, commercial comedy, some groups are using "The Interview" as a symbol of free speech in the face of threats. The New York space Treehouse Theater has promised a live reading of a draft version of the movie's script on Saturday.

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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