Sony planning limited release of ‘The Interview’

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By Brian Stelter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney – Dec. 23, 2014) — “The Interview” is not over, after all.

Despite threats from hackers, Sony is making the controversial Seth Rogen comedy available at a limited number of theaters on Christmas.

The movie studio’s CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that “we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day.”

He did not specify an exact number because the plans were still being worked out. But theaters in Georgia, Texas and Virginia said on Twitter that they had agreed to show the film, and more theater announcements are expected later on Tuesday.

In Indianapolis, the general manager of Georgetown 14 Digital Cinemas on Lafayette Road told FOX59 the theater would screen the movie on Christmas Day.

It is widely believed that Sony Pictures suffered a cyberattack last month partly due to North Korea’s fury over the movie. In light of concerns about security at theaters, an FBI official said “we are fully engaged with Sony on the decision” to release the movie.

Sony may also make “The Interview” available through a video-on-demand service, but no companies have publicly agreed to help Sony do that, yet.

“We are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience,” Lynton said.

A few minutes after the studio chief’s statement, Rogen tweeted: “The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up! The Interview will be shown at theaters willing to play it on Xmas day!”

On Instagram, his co-star James Franco called it a “victory” and said “the people and the president have spoken.”

“The Interview” is about an assassination plot against the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. It is widely believed that Sony Pictures suffered a cyberattack last month partly due to North Korea’s fury over the movie.

Tuesday’s news comes almost a week after Sony originally canceled the Christmas release of “The Interview.”

Sony, for its part, says it had little choice but to cancel the release after major theater chains like AMC and Regal backed out of plans to put it on their screens, citing threats from the same anonymous hackers that had apparently hacked into Sony.

There was immediate backlash to the cancellation of the film, including from President Obama, who said Friday that Sony had “made a mistake.” (That same day, Sony started looking for new ways to distribute the film in some fashion.)

With each passing day, more people — including writers, independent theater owners and members of Congress — spoke out.

A petition titled “We the undersigned support Sony” started to pick up steam on Monday on the web site Change.org. It was published by Art House Convergence, an association of independent theaters across the country.

Some of those theaters are now apparently on board for the limited release on Christmas.

Petitioners pledged to stand by Sony and “support theatrical engagements of ‘The Interview’ should Sony, at its sole discretion, decide to release it to theaters.”

One of the signers, Josh Levin, the operator of the West End Cinema in Washington, D.C., wrote on Facebook that he had backed the petition because “I refuse to allow bullies to dictate what I can and cannot show.”

That same sentiment has been widespread on social media among people who now want to see the movie in order to make a statement. A growing number of organizations and politicians offered to hold free screenings before the limited Christmas release was announced.

Last week the web site Gawker said it would rent a theater and buy the popcorn if Sony provided a copy of the movie.

Over the weekend the Republican National Committee sent a letter to major theater owners, urging them to show “The Interview,” and pledging to support the release by encouraging members of its mailing lists to go see it.

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, RNC communications director Sean Spicer told me “we would love” to hold a screening at the committee’s headquarters.

And on Monday, Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, told Sony he wants to hold a screening on Capitol Hill. Sherman is the chairman of the Entertainment Industries Caucus.

“Screening ‘The Interview’ will demonstrate the U.S. Congress’s support of the freedom of speech,” Sherman said in a letter to Sony executives.

Perhaps acknowledging some of the poor reviews of the comedy, he added, “Good or bad, Americans should not be deprived of the opportunity to see this movie.”

The literary group PEN American Center also offered to hold a screening on Monday. In a letter to Sony signed by Salman Rushdie, Stephen Sondheim, Jennifer Egan, Tony Kushner, and others, PEN called this “a genuine offer and one that we hope you will take seriously.”

According to a new CNN/ORC poll, conducted December 18 through 21 and released on Tuesday, 36% of Americans think Sony made the right decision by canceling the movie last week, while 62% thought it was an overreaction. Men were about 20 percentage points more likely than women to call it an overreaction.

Pamela Brown contributed reporting from Washington.