11:23 am - Friday August 12, 2022

Sony U-turn on North Korea film

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The Interview was put back into cinemas when Sony announced a limited Christmas Day release for the comedy that provoked an international incident with North Korea and outrage over its cancelled release.

Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton said Seth Rogen’s North Korea farce “will be in a number of theatres” beginning tomorrow.

He said Sony also is continuing its efforts to release the film on more platforms and in more cinemas.

“We have never given up on releasing The Interview,” Mr Lynton said yesterday.

“While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”

For Sony, the decision was the culmination of a gradual U-turn – after initially saying it had no plans to release the film, the company began softening its position after it was broadly criticised.

Filmgoers celebrated the abrupt change in fortune for a film that appeared doomed as The Interview began popping up in the listings of independent cinemas across the US, from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

The film is set to open in over 200 cinemas tomorrow, the day it was originally set for wide release.

Sony officials are not commenting on whether the film will also be released to video on demand – another possibility.

One of the loudest critics of the film’s shelving, President Barack Obama, hailed Sony’s U-turn.

“The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorise screenings of the film,” said his spokesman Eric Schultz.

“As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theatres allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”

White House officials declined to elaborate on what role, if any, the White House played in Sony’s about-turn, but pointed out Mr Obama had stated publicly that he believed the company’s earlier decision to cancel the release was a mistake.

Rogen, who stars in the film he co-directed with Evan Goldberg, made his first public comments in a surreal ordeal that began with hackers leaking Sony executives’ emails and culminated in an ongoing confrontation between the US and North Korea. The FBI has said North Korea was behind the hacking attacks.

“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!” said Rogen on Twitter.

“VICTORY!!!!!!!” said James Franco, who co-stars in the film. “The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken.”

North Korea’s Internet was shut down in an apparent attack on Monday, and continued to be hit by intermittent outages yesterday.

That followed Mr Obama’s vow of a response to what he called North Korea’s “cyber vandalism” of Sony.

The White House and State Department have declined to say whether the US government was responsible for North Korea’s outages.

After hackers last Wednesday threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas showing the film, the nation’s major multiplex chains dropped The Interview.

Sony then cancelled the film’s release altogether and removed mention of it from its websites.

But that decision drew widespread criticism, including from Mr Obama, who chastised Sony for what he deemed “a mistake” that went against American principles of free speech.

George Clooney also led a chorus pressuring for the movie’s release and rallying against alleged corporate self-censorship.

Releasing The Interview could potentially cause a response from the hackers, who called themselves the Guardians of Peace.

There have been none of the embarrassing data leaks of Sony emails since the movie’s release was delayed.

In a message last week to the studio, the hackers said Sony’s data would be safe so long as the film was never distributed.

A limited release could potentially be followed by expansion into larger multiplex chains, a type of roll-out that has been used in the past for controversial films including Zero Dark Thirty.

Independent cinemas had shown a stronger appetite to screen The Interview.

Art House Convergence, which represents independent exhibitors, sent a letter on Monday to Sony saying its cinemas (comprising about 250 screens) wished to show the film.

Sony did not immediately say how many cinemas will show the film, but The Interview will open in far from the wide release originally planned on up to 3,000 screens.

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