- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A 75-seat theater at the District's West End Cinema, a small independent art house, is arguably not the place moviegoers would expect to catch the latest big-budget Hollywood comedy.

But uproar over the release of the Sony Pictures film “The Interview” has turned a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists tasked with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un into the year’s most controversial film and drawn support from independent theaters that typically eschew mainstream blockbusters.

The West End Cinema in Northwest is one of four small D.C.-area theaters screening the film on Christmas Day after Sony Pictures canceled, and then reinstated, its release and big name theater chains balked at showing the film amid vague and unspecified terror threats.

Josh Levin, general manager of the District's West End Cinema, said the bullying and censorship “The Interview” was up against made it a great choice for his independent theater.

“Since the day we opened we’ve shown films that for whatever reason were not available to widespread audiences,” Mr. Levin said. “Our slogan here is ‘All Stories Told Here.’ “

The theater quickly sold out of the two showings it has scheduled for Christmas Day and Friday, but the movie theater has showings scheduled through at least New Year’s Day with more hopefully in the works, Mr. Levin said.

“The immediate reaction is the people desperately want to come support, if not the film itself, then the principle,” he said. “We have never had this kind of advance interest for a film.”

Approximately 300 theaters nationwide are confirmed to screen the film beginning on Thursday, many in small or independent theaters that wouldn’t normally host such a big-name movie.

“Although this film may not be typical of the films we generally screen, we made a decision to do so from a philosophical standpoint — that of artistic freedom, creative license and defense against censorship,” Susan Smoluchowski, executive director of the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, said in a statement. Her group is showing the film in Minneapolis.

Four D.C.-area theaters have confirmed Christmas Day openings of the film.

The Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, part of the Texas-based Alamo theater chain, sold out its two Christmas Day showings of the film and plans additional showings Friday through at least the rest of the week.

The movie-theater aligned itself with Art House Convergence, a national coalition of independent art house cinemas, in the call for independent theaters to support “freedom of expression” by being granted permission by Sony to show the film.

“We are proud to support this petition and be part of the network of independent cinemas to support freedom of expression with request to screen THE INTERVIEW,” Alamo Drafthouse posted on its website.

In addition to West End Cinema and the Alamo in the D.C. area, the Manassas 4 Cinemas in Manassas has five showings scheduled on Thursday, with all tickets listed as first come, first served.

The Xscape 14 in Brandywine also has five showings scheduled Thursday.

Manager Melissa Stizers said, that as of Wednesday afternoon, the theater hadn’t sold out any of its showings. She said the Brandywine cinema is not taking any extra precautions in terms of security surrounding the screening.

“We always try to take precautions,” she said.

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