- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The nation’s feisty independent and art-house cinemas plan to show “The Interview” after Sony reversed itself Tuesday and agreed to a limited Christmas Day release, defying hackers tied to North Korea who threatened to attack theaters that show the film.

As many as several hundred small theaters, led by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, were flooded with ticket requests for the movie’s Thursday premiere after Sony authorized them to screen the movie, a comedy about a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“See the movie North Korea really, REALLY doesn’t want you to see this time for realsies,” said the Alamo Drafthouse in a post on Twitter.

Sony chairman and CEO Michael Lynton, who was heavily criticized for pulling the movie last week after major cinema chains canceled the film over public safety concerns, said in a statement that Thursday’s limited release was only the beginning.

Sony also plans to release the film on video-on-demand at the same time as the theatrical release, according to The Wrap, an industry website.

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Mr. Lynton said. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

SEE ALSO: Most Americans think Sony overreacted by pulling ‘The Interview’: poll

“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,” he said.

Alamo CEO Tim League called Sony’s decision to release the film “the best Christmas gift anyone could give us.”

“We, both distributors and exhibitors, have collectively stood firm to our principles and for the right to freedom of expression,” Mr. League said in a statement.

Hackers linked to North Korea calling themselves the Guardians of Peace stole and released thousands of documents from Sony, then threatened a 9/11-style terrorist attack on theaters that show “The Interview,” which prompted the top U.S. cinema chains to pull the film for security reasons.

Sony responded Dec. 17 by delaying indefinitely the film’s release, a move that drew widespread criticism from celebrities and politicians who accused the movie studio of allowing terrorists to dictate movie content.

President Obama was among those who praised Sony’s decision Tuesday to release the film. Last week, he said he thought Sony “made a mistake” by pulling the film, although he was also criticized for failing to do more to support the studio in the face of a terrorist threat.

“The President applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a Tuesday statement. “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 theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”

Theater owners were reportedly beefing up security for the premiere, although the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement last week that no credible security threat had been detected.

Cybersecurity expert Hemanshu Nigam, who serves as co-chair of the president’s Online Safety Technology Working Group, predicted Homeland Security would be on “high alert on Christmas Day to mitigate any physical attack concerns against theaters.”

“There’s no question Sony has not made this decision lightly and with full consultation with the counter-intelligence community of the United States and the White House,” Mr. Nigam said in an email. “It is a sign that Sony is standing up for itself knowing that it is being backed by the administration.”

He added, “While it may open the possibility of further cyberattacks on Sony as well as on theaters, I imagine that all of these entities have shored up their cyber defenses over the last few weeks.”

Stars James Franco and Seth Rogen, who had canceled publicity appearances following the threat, were jubilant Tuesday after learning that the movie would be released after all.

“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!” Mr. Rogen said on Twitter.

Mr. Franco released a photo of himself kissing Mr. Rogen with the message, “CELEBRATING!!!!!

“The Interview” starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco saved by President Obacco! I MEAN PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!!! Sorry!”

“President Obacco” was a dig to Mr. Obama’s earlier flub in which he called the actor “James Flacco” at Friday’s White House press conference.

A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday found that Americans overwhelming opposed the decision to pull the movie. Of those surveyed, 62 percent said they thought Sony overreacted, while 36 percent said canceling the film was the right decision.

Jessica Chasmar and David Sherfinski contributed to this article.

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