NEIGHBORHOOD MOVIE theaters got an unexpected Christmas present from Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator whose crude threats over the last month gave theaters a chance to remind the public of the value of small and independent cinemas. As an indirect result of the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which experts believe was directed by North Korea in an effort to block the release of the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy “The Interview,” moviegoers have a chance to rediscover and reward the often-overlooked theaters that have stood up for free artistic expression by agreeing to show the film despite the threats. The whole episode ought to convince Hollywood to treat smaller cinemas better, and not just when they need them to rescue distributors from the cowardice of the big chains.
The movie, which portrays the assassination of the North Korean dictator, provoked the hack of Sony, as well as threats of 9/11-style violence against theaters that showed it. As a result, the major cinema chains have already said they won’t screen “The Interview.” That initially led Sony executives to cancel the movie altogether, before reversing themselves Tuesday and allowing other cinemas to show it. The studio also released it as a paid download on Wednesday.
So if viewers want to see the film on the big screen, they’ll have to visit a cinema like Apple Cinemas in Cambridge or the Somerville Theatre. And, perhaps due to the unprecedented publicity “The Interview” has received, theaters screening the film have reported a flood of interest. Apple said its online ticketing system had buckled briefly under the demand — so customers were showing up in person to buy tickets instead. “Because of the fervor around the movie,” said one Apple employee, “it’ll probably be here for a while.”
The windfall for the small theaters is especially fitting because those very theaters have too often been an afterthought in Hollywood. Most recently, the industry forced cinemas to switch from open-source 35mm film format to proprietary digital projectors, a move that was easy for big theater chains but too expensive for some smaller theaters to absorb. Some were even forced to close. It may have been a smart business move, but Hollywood’s uncaring attitude toward the fate of small theaters was all too apparent. Without independent cinemas, though, Sony — or the next studio with a controversial film on its hands — might be stuck with nobody brave enough to show it.