In Its Strange Journey, 'The Interview' Becomes An Art House Film | KERA News

In Its Strange Journey, 'The Interview' Becomes An Art House Film

Dec 24, 2014
Originally published on December 24, 2014 7:59 am

A buddy flick about killing North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un will be shown on Christmas Day after all, at least in about 200 independent theaters. This kind of small-scale distribution model and the politics surrounding The Interview give what was once a big-budget Hollywood release the spirit of an art house film.

In the satirical film, which is at the center of a geopolitical tussle, Seth Rogen and James Franco play television producers who get an interview with Kim but are then hired by the CIA to "take him out."

The reaction to this film from one of the most cutoff countries on Earth — and from its leader — came quickly. North Korea went to the United Nations trying to get the film banned. In November came a hack of Sony Pictures, the studio behind the film, that the FBI links to North Koreans.

Subsequent threats invoking Sept. 11 led major theater chains to say they wouldn't show it. But when Sony pulled the film from release last week, President Obama joined a chorus of Americans expressing their disappointment.

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship in the United States," Obama said on Friday.

Then, 48 hours before the film's original opening day, Sony changed its mind. It uncanceled The Interview after independent theater operators started an online petition to show the film.

"It's kinda classic little-guy stuff that we support. I think it's really important that there's small places that can take a stand," says Hadrian Belove, executive director of the Cinefamily, a nonprofit cinema in Los Angeles. The Cinefamily will screen the film.

Now it's the little guys — a couple of hundred independent theaters — that get to run a big-budget film originally set for broad release. The Atlanta's Plaza Theater is among them. So is the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain.

"Tickets are going really well," said Drafthouse CEO Tim League. "There's a lot of demand. I think there's a lot of people who wouldn't normally go see a Seth Rogen-James Franco film that want to do it just for support of freedom of expression."

It makes sense that Alamo Drafthouse theaters — and independent theaters like it — will brave the terrorism threats and show The Interview. They're known for their personality — hosting singalongs, themed screenings complete with food and cocktails — and embodying defiant American attitudes. As League says in a Drafthouse promo, "the Alamo is not your average everyday movie theater."

The more everyday movie theaters — megachains like Regal (which boasts more than 7,000 screens) — continue to opt out, which means Sony still could take a loss on the film. But all of the intrigue has given a major motion picture an art house quality.

"It's become in many ways a protest film, which is unusual and probably not intended," Belove says.

The Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League also notes the oddity.

"It's strange that it's morphed into having an identity like an art house film. I think a lot of the art house film theaters across the country have a strong track record of showing films that have a political message, or there's some controversy or even protest associated with them. Oddly enough this wacky Seth Rogen comedy now falls firmly into art house territory, in my book," League says.

In the ever-twisting tale of bringing this film to audiences, its unconventional release is only one of its stranger elements.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The bromance about killing Kim Jong-un on will be shown on Christmas Day after all - at least in a few hundred independent theaters. Sony had announced it was pulling the movie after the company was hacked, the government believes by North Korea. NPR's Elise Hu explores "The Interview's" journey from major Hollywood release to art house film.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: It's weird to even say this, but the interview is the Seth Rogen comedy at the center of a geopolitical tussle. In the satirical film, Rogen and James Franco play tabloid journalists who land an interview with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. The CIA hires the men to kill Kim.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE INTERVIEW")

LIZZY CAPLAN: (As Lacey) The CIA would love it if you could take him out.

SETH ROGEN: (As Rapaport) Like for drinks?

JAMES FRANCO: (As Skylark) Like to dinner?

ROGEN: Take him out on the town?

CAPLAN: No. Take him out.

HU: The reaction to this film from one of the most cutoff countries on Earth - and its dictator - came swiftly. North Korea went to the U.N. trying to get the film banned. In November came the hack the FBI links to North Korea - the breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio behind the film. And subsequent threats invoking a 9/11 style attack if the movie came out led the major theater chains to say they wouldn't show it. When Sony pulled the film release last week, President Barack Obama joined a chorus of Americans expressing disappointment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.

HU: Then just 48 hours before its original opening day, Sony changed its mind. It un-canceled "The Interview" after independent theater operators started an online petition to show the film. Hadrian Belove is executive director of the Cinefamily, a nonprofit cinema in Los Angeles that will show the movie.

HADRIAN BELOVE: It's kind of classic little-guy stuff that we support. I think it's really important that there's small places that can take a stand.

HU: Now it is the little guys - over 200 theaters that get to run a big-budget film originally set for broad release. The Atlanta's Plaza Theater is among them, so is the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain. Tim League is the Drafthouse CEO.

TIM LEAGUE: Tickets are going really well. I expect there's a lot of demand. I think there's a lot of people who wouldn't normally go see a Seth Rogen - James Franco movie that want to do it just as a support for freedom of expression.

HU: It makes sense that Alamo Drafthouse and independent theaters like it will brave the terror threats and show "The Interview." They're known for their personality, hosting sing-alongs, themed screenings complete with food and cocktails, and embodying defiant American attitudes. As League says in this promo...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROMOTION)

LEAGUE: The Alamo is not your average, everyday movie theater.

HU: The more everyday movie theaters - megachains like Regal - are still opting out, which means Sony could still take a loss on "The Interview." But in a strange way, this big studio comedy now takes on an art house quality. Cinefamily's Hadrian Belove...

BELOVE: It's become, in many ways, a protest film, which is unusual and probably not intended.

HU: The Alamo's Tim League...

LEAGUE: It's strange that it's morphed into having an identity like an art house film. I think a lot of these art house film theaters across the country have a strong track record of showing films that have a political message, or there's some controversy or even protest associated with them. And oddly enough, this wacky Seth Rogen comedy now falls firmly into art house territory in my book.

HU: In the ever-twisting tale of bringing this film to audiences, its unconventional release is only one of its stranger elements. Elise Hu, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.