Sony Pictures has been blaming theater chains for its decision to cancel the release of The Interview last week, but US independent movie theaters are making that a tough argument to sell. First the director of Art House Convergence, a coalition of 250 independent movie theaters, posted an open letter to Sony Pictures' Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, writing that the members of the independent art house community would screen The Interview — either as a free, one-off screening, or as part of their regular programming. Today Art House Convergence is upping the ante with a petition at Change.org, allowing theater owners to publicly pledge to Sony that they will screen the embattled film.
"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," the petition reads. "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."
Indie theaters were still selling tickets when Sony canceled
The matter of distribution channels — and how much they truly impacted Sony's decision to pull The Interview — has become an issue of considerable debate over the past week. After the group behind the Sony hack threatened violence on any theaters that showed the film, Sony Pictures spoke to the major theater chains and told them it would understand if they decided to not screen the movie. With that opt-out clearly in place, theater owners took advantage, with all major chains declining to screen the film as of last Wednesday. (With the holidays serving as the last big ticket push before the end of the year, theater owners were no doubt concerned that threats of violence would depress attendance — not just for The Interview, but for the numerous other films opening Christmas Day.)
Sony then cancelled The Interview altogether, a move that it has portrayed as a fait accompli — even though independent theaters like the Alamo Drafthouse were still selling tickets to the movie when Sony made its call. When asked Friday why the company wouldn't distribute the movie online in some form instead, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton shifted blamed to distributors again, claiming that no partner had "stepped forward" — even though the studio should have both Sony-owned Crackle and the PlayStation Network at its disposal.
Initiatives like the Art House Convergence petition are part of a growing chorus of voices demanding that Sony take some sort of action to release the film (a theater in New York is even planning a live reading of the script as "an opportunity for people to come together in the name of free speech"). At this point it's becoming increasingly obvious that there are indeed avenues to release The Interview — the only question is if Sony has the will to do so.