by Robert Maier

Because I run an independent cinema (small though it is), I paid close attention to the earliest news about North Korea’s alleged threats to movie theaters that planned to show Sony’s THE INTERVIEW on Christmas Day. Studio-C shows many Sony-distributed films.  I felt their pain as their computer systems failed. The repercussions echoed through the industry.

Things got interesting when the large theater chains like AMC, Regal, and Carmike that dominate 99% of the movie theater industry, claimed they were afraid to show THE INTERVIEW, because terrorists sent from North Korea might attack them, or hack their computer systems too.

A national debate developed. Some said, “Nobody tells Americans what to do, so show the movie;” others said, “we’re too afraid to show the movie.”

Studio-C Cinema is a member of the Art House Convergence, a national group of independent theaters, which show documentaries, foreign films, independents, classics, and other unique films instead of the usual Hollywood blockbusters.

As entrepreneurs, the AHC group wanted to make a statement that independents support freedom of speech and good old-fashioned bravery. The AHC emailed its members, asking if any theaters would show the THE INTERVIEW. Hundreds signed up (including Studio-C Cinema), and the AHG sent the list to Sony, requesting screenings

Sony said yes, and the indie theaters scheduled premiers beginning Christmas Day. This made global headlines on Christmas Eve. Channel 9 in Charlotte called me early in the morning to see if Studio-C Cinema would show the film. If so, they would send a live news truck to interview audience and staff. Other theaters around the country had been contacted by the Associated Press, every US TV and radio network, and media from four continents too, as the story went viral.

Unfortunately, being so small, Studio-C Cinema did not have the equipment needed to play THE INTERVIEW on Christmas Day. So, we had to pass.

Nevertheless, it was heartening to see that the Charlotte Observer’s Christmas Day headline story was the screening of THE INTERVIEW—in Columbia, SC. Turns out no theater in the Charlotte area would show it, so local media trucked down to Lancaster or Columbia, SC, where two independent theaters did show it.

This episode has convinced me even more of the need for independent cinemas in our communities. The Art House Convergence group showed us that big corporations can’t do it all.

Small entrepreneurs are needed in all media (all businesses!) to keep our communities brave, and fresh, and considerate of art, not just the bottom line.

We hope you reflect on this quirky news event, and if you live near an independent art house cinema, that you treat it as an asset to the community. Go see their terrific movies, and tell your friends. There is a wonderful world of thought-provoking films out there, especially foreign language films, and we need to keep them, and the theater experience alive and well.

Cinema As Art: A column about international, documentary, and independent films. 

Robert Maier worked in film production for more than 35 years in New York, Baltimore, and Charlotte. He has written extensively on film topics, has authored three books on film production, and is a regular contributor to The Wrap and The Underground Film Journal. Maier is also the founder and director of Studio C Cinema, a 2 year-old art house cinema in the Lake Norman area, 15 miles north of Charlotte.

Foreign language films are even more fun when you understand what they’re saying — check out The Language Academy‘s full schedule of small group classes to get ready for your next flick.