At the beginning of Christmas week, controversial comedy “The Interview” looked like a film doomed to obscurity, after threats made by the anonymous hackers behind the increasingly embarrassing Sony leaks.
But on Thursday night, following similar moves by independent cinemas across the United States, the Arlington Theatre screened a special 10:45 p.m. showing of the film, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen.
Several hundred people turned out for the show, the first of a series of nightly screenings to continue through New Year’s Day (except for New Year’s Eve).
As they say in show business, there is no such thing as bad publicity. And what would have been an ordinary comedy film had turned into an event.
Monica McIlwee of Santa Barbara said she was in line to see the film with friends “because it seemed like a fun thing to do and the right thing to do. I’m all about freedom of expression and the ability to say and do whatever you want unless it hurts other people.”
Another man in line, who just wanted to go by Matt, said he had no idea that the movie would even be in theaters until 30 minutes before getting in line.
“I knew Sony had canceled it,” he said. “But then I was driving by and I saw (the marquee) and thought, ‘Wait, Sony did a 180!'” So he parked and bought a ticket.
“The Interview” stars Mr. Franco and Mr. Rogen as tabloid TV show stars who land an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), and then get recruited by the CIA to assassinate him.
Although not mentioned in the original hacking releases that undermined Sony Pictures Entertainment, the mysterious group known as Guardians of Peace (aka GOP) warned that theaters showing “The Interview” might be attacked, citing the offense of a comedy film that calls for the assassination of an actual world leader.
Sony’s decision to then ban its own film was met with derision and disappointment from both the left and right wings of American politics. Several days later, Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of art house cinemas, announced they would defy censorship and show the film on Christmas Day after all.
Other art cinemas followed suit, with Santa Barbara’s Metropolitan Theatres Corp. announcing on Tuesday the series of screenings at the Arlington.
The number of cinemas now showing the film nationwide is 300. In the meantime, Sony has also put the movie online for sale through GooglePlay, starting this last Wednesday.
Long before the Sony hack, Metropolitan had scheduled the film at Metro 4 downtown and at the Camino Real Marketplace cinema in Goleta. On Thursday, David Corwin, Metropolitian’s chief executive, drove up from his home in Los Angeles to watch over the premiere.
“We’ve been part of this community for 65 years and we thought it was important to give people the opportunity to see the film as intended,” he said. “People feel pretty vocal about the freedom of expression and not wanting to be told by some outside source what movies can play in the U.S.”
Security was light at the premiere, with two visible security guards checking bags and keeping an eye out. Mr. Corwin confirmed a few undercover security guards were in the crowd.
Despite the FBI confirming days ago that North Korea indeed launched the cyber attack that hacked into Sony, other experts claimed on Thursday that some evidence pointed to a former disgruntled employee.
According to CBS News, Kurt Stammberger, a senior vice president with cybersecurity firm Norse, said data pointed to a woman named “Lena” who worked at Sony in Los Angeles for 10 years. She left the company in May, and had the kind of access that could lead to compromised servers.
Another moviegoer, Julian Covert, said he had no idea who was behind the hack.
“From what we’re fed by the news we’re led to believe it’s North Korea. But I’m not worried about it. I’m here, as you can see. I was planning on seeing the film anyway. I’m happy for Sony. Hopefully they can get back a little cred.”
The film will screen at 11 p.m. every day through next Thursday, except for New Year’s Eve.