The media blitzkrieg surrounding The Interview appeared to be the finest hype any PR agency could fabricate. However, truth be told, the events of the last week were grounded in a frightening scenario: a foreign nation attempting to spread its hegemony of fear and repression with material threats. SONY was hacked and decided to pull the opening of the film on Christmas day fearing death, injury and litigious reprisal if bomb threats against theaters were realized as hackers said they would be. The rest is history. When smaller theaters showed their mettle and contacted SONY and after President Obama chided SONY, the company relented. Theaters screened The Interview as Google and others offered to support the film via streaming (thus far the film is SONY’s largest online earner).
Cinefamily a “non profit organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs” was waiting in the wings for a situation like the one The Interview and SONY presented. Founded in 2007 by brothers Dan and Sammy Harkham and Hadrian Belove of Cinefile Video, it is one of the few cinematiques (boutique cinemas), that clamored to screen The Interview. It’s midnight showing of The Interview was sold out and it was perhaps the premiere showing in the nation. Afterward, other theaters came on board.
I had an opportunity to speak to the current Executive Director of the Cinefamily, Hadrian Belove about the tumultuous events concerning The Interview events which have since quieted down.
Could you just tell me what it has been like the last couple of days with the screenings of The Interview?
It has been great. Attendance has been really solid and all the shows have been doing really well. The media circus has died down, so it’s just a very well done run at this point and we’ve had a lot of new people who have never come to the theater before which is nice.
When Seth Rogan and James Franco showed up, did you know they were coming?
James Franco didn’t come. It was Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, c0-directors of The Interview. And yes, we did know they were coming. They came twice. They came for the opening, the very first show and once the next day. They were touring on a bus to all the theaters showing The Interview to say “Hi,” to folks.
Did they introduce the film?
They introduced the film but didn’t stay for Q and As. They had a tight time line because they wanted to go to as many theaters as possible on Christmas. And on Christmas Eve our show was at 12:30 am. I think just coming out and saying “hello” was the main point. The movie didn’t end until like 3:00 am, so that was a lot.
I went to the theater in my area, a little theater that shows Indies. They were showing The Interview. The police were out front. They checked our bags and when I spoke to the employees, they said that they had received threats and that it was necessary to beef up the security.
We also did the bag checks. The police were kind enough to come every day that was Christmas Day and sort of hang out and come back. We did hire security for the opening. We did bring in professionals to make sure everybody felt safe and showing that we were doing due diligence.
Could you explain the mission of Cinefamily?
Cinefamily is a nonprofit cinematique. Part of its non profit mission is to revitalize the film going experience. We feel that exhibition has its own very special role in the health of the arts and movie going and that people should want to go to the movies. We feel that when you build a community, an audience for films, that is the best way to support the arts. So we show wild, weird, wonderful films from around the world. Overlooked, underrated, strange and beautiful things, but we put an equal emphasis in how we do it and how we cultivate our community. So the how we do it is everything from our membership system which lets people come for free so they can check out more shows to our added value events (for example Willem Dafoe stopped by on November 16 and spent an evening, discussing various and sundry about himself and his films). All of these things are carefully considered to try to create regulars, so that when we do show a film that we believe in, they listen to us. We also put an emphasis on the quality of the films we show…that every film is like a recommendation. While some nonprofits might emphasize diaspora or films they feel need to be seen, we always put it out there that we are making a promise to our audience and that we are going to deliver on our promise. For the long term, we think it’s best for the films. And there are a variety of other things like this. But our big success, you know the key ideas have been community, quality and range. And that has helped us show all kinds of movies and it’s been really great.
Love to see you expand to New York. But I can stream your films, right?
No (he laughs), but we’re working on it. Though we do think that what Cinefamily does could be appropriate online, it is really important that there is a brick and mortar location because it’s about getting people together as much as anything else.
I grew up in an age where I sat in a movie theater as a kid and I saw Lawrence of Arabia on a big screen. There’s nothing to compare with that. If I had to see All is Lost, I’d prefer to see that on a big screen rather than a mobile device, although the other is very useful, I have to say.
Well, both have their place and just are dependent upon one’s different needs.
So you’re telling me that the ticket sales are doing really well. How did you decide to show The Interview?
We decided to screen it because other theaters weren’t doing this. We felt that our mission is to support the arts. Freedom of speech is crucial as is artistic expression. Both would apply in this case. So we thought that this is a film that needed our support. As soon as we heard that other theaters weren’t going to show it, we put out the word that we wanted to. So that was pretty straightforward. And how we got it is part of the national story. We lobbied, we signed a petition along with the other art houses, we had friends of the theater write emails. These were supporters who we felt had some sway or leverage. We asked them to send direct emails to SONY on our behalf. These were guys like Phil Lord who directed the 21 Jump Street movie, or Evan Goldberg himself who co-directed The Interview, Hannah Minghella…these people sent emails on our behalf to SONY reps saying that this was an important theater for it to play at.
You know, it’s almost like this whole event was made for you guys.
(laughing) In some ways. One thing that is true is that part of our approach to the arts to keep people excited, is
that we have a big tent approach. We have a really broad range of what we call the arts. We’re very welcoming. It really wasn’t that unusual for us to show something like The Interview on the same calendar like obscure Danish documentaries or Tarkovsky films. That is very much the spirit upon which this place was founded…to not ghettoize different kinds of films, but to make it one big happy family.
I would. In fact we’ve been asking for it. I think over the holidays we’ve been having a difficult time hearing back from them, but we’re actually trying to book that film. Love it.
(December 5-8, Cinefamily held a retrospective called “Truth and Soul, Inc.: the films of Robert Downey, Sr.” Hosted variably by Robert Downey Sr. in conversation with his son, Robert Downey, Jr., Paul Thomas Anderson, Lewis C.K., with Alan Arkin also appearing, the selections included Chafed Elbows & Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight, Greaser’s Palace, Putney Swope to name a few.)
You held the Robert Downy retrospective showing his innovative, maverick work. Have you held other such retrospectives or film festivals?
We’ve done retrospectives and things like that. We’ve done small festivals. We just did an animation festival that we called “Animation Breakdown” that we put together in November. There’s the “Everything Is” festival which is kind of a found footage arts and comedy festival. The nature of the building we’re in, the size, to some extent limits us. But yeah, I would love to host and support and program film festivals as well. I love those and I think we’d be pretty darn good at it.
You show documentaries…
We love documentaries. Honestly, we’re probably the most wide-ranging cinema in the world. There is no genre or era we don’t touch. We’re all over the map. The only through line is what we think is awesome and great.
What is certainly a boon is that Cinefamily is bringing together film fans to experience the best that film has to offer. It is rather like taking advanced courses in cinema offering unusual and amazing cinematic experiences that join people together and offer a community to viewers of all ages and stripes. And let’s face it, The Interview was an unusual viewing experience.
This article first appeared on Blogcritics.
The Long Shrift written by Robert Boswell, directed by James Franco is currently at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The production stars a powerful ensemble cast headed up by the always fascinating Ally Sheedy. The play which remains on a steady keel toward the surprising and revelatory deals with thorny issues which currently plague the culture of youth and its guardians. Recent articles in the New York Times have pinpointed one of the problems that Boswell broils us with in his interesting work: the topic of rape and holding the right individuals accountable, despite educational politics, unequal economic justice and parental and social pressures. More specifically, Boswell directs our attention to controversial sub issues raising the questions that need to be in the forefront of male-female relationships, regardless of whether the couples are married, partners, friends, or are simply “dating.” At the foundation of Boswell’s work, which investigates whether a rape has been committed is the concept of penance, forgiveness and the healing power of truth.
When the play unfolds, Sarah (Ally Sheedy), and husband Henry of 23 years (a well meaning and level headed Brian Lally), are unpacking boxes having just moved into a “hovel,” Sarah’s description of an unadorned, lower middle class home which we gather from Sarah’s diatribe is a complete step down from their former residence. During the exposition we discover why Sarah is disgruntled and depressed, though Henry with good humor and good will tries to lift her from her doldrums. The couple have had to sell their lovely house to pay the lawyer’s fees to defend their son against a rape charge. Richard, (an excellent Scott Haze), a senior in high school, was convicted and Sarah and Henry have had to sell their home to pay their lawyer’s fees. They have since purchased another place and followed their son to the area of Huntsville, Texas where he is serving 9 years.
During the discussion about their son, we discover that Richard was a “fish out of water” in a tony, private high school amongst students of privilege, one of which was the young woman who accused him of raping her. Boswell sets the tone of mystery through the characterization of Sarah who profoundly questions her son’s innocence despite Henry’s loyal and simplistic love and the assurance that Richard has been falsely accused. Henry is amazed that Sarah doubts Richard and continually affirms that the victim is no “victim” for it was Beth (Ahna O’Reilly), who lured and teased Richard into consensual sex which she later denied because she enjoyed betraying their son in a perverse display of arrogant superiority. Henry believes Beth accused his son because she could; she is backed by the power and justice rendered by oodles of money and an attorney whose “air tight” case the jury swallowed because of the inherent differences between economic class and social culture: Beth was the prom Queen and Richard was a geek nobody.
Because Sarah intuits that Richard is hiding something from her, she cannot forgive him until he comes clean and reveals what happened between him and his accuser. Sarah manifests this stasis in her relationship with her son by refusing to visit Richard in prison. It is not an easy decision, but she is as stalwart about not seeing him as Henry is as supportive about visiting. The audience is engaged in the ready proclivity to accept Henry’s stance because of the truism that money talks and lots of money roars, and the audience questions Sarah’s decision not to visit her son. As Boswell draws Sarah’s character, it is clear that the mother has become hardened, for deep within, she is unable to stem her bleeding emotional wounds at having lost her innocent, beautiful son to the extent that she can’t bear to see him in prison.
What is superb about Boswell’s play, Franco’s direction and Sheedy’s performance is that elements of Sarah’s characterization play into the audience’s assumptions about the mother’s inability to withstand the pressures of circumstance to believe in Richard’s innocence. But as the play progresses, the characterization subtly deepens in a harkening back to the title. Sarah’s is the very tough love, where her husband’s is the sweet and understanding love. Indeed, Sarah is holding vigil for Richard’s truthful moment. It is only then he will be able to begin to heal and forge a new life. So the mystery Boswell unfolds with subtext after subtext is not only whether Richard is innocent or guilty of the rape, but whether Sarah was correct in intuiting that he was not telling her the truth. And of course, the playwright keeps us wondering what is the truth that should be revealed? Is it so complicated? Turns out it is.
After this opening, Boswell breaks the play’s structure and fast forwards to years later during which time Sarah has died (she does appear in a brief scene with Henry in his dream state), and Richie has been released after 5 years because his accuser recanted her testimony. Gradually, the mysteries are elucidated and eventually solved for lo and behold, the accuser, Beth, shows up at Richard’s door when he stays with his Dad to go to his high school reunion, a quasi-hero vindicated from the crime. What ensues when accuser meets accused is a grinding trauma of point and counterpoint, vilification and sorrow. Boswell shocks the play with a series of electric blasts which move in heightened power throughout: they begin with Richie, and continue with an indignant Henry who angrily confronts his son’s accuser and move in a crescendo to the climax. Adding to the storm, Boswell tricks in plot complications with Macy (Allie Gallerani), student class president and reunion coordinator who accompanies Beth to Richard’s. Macy presents a tempting offer that Richard give a speech to his former classmates explaining his innocence in the presence of his humbled accuser. Boswell’s characterization of Macy is an ironic symbol of the culture’s worst ideals. She exemplifies the warped mores which have contributed to Richard’s and Beth’s watery destruction in a corrupt social vortex that engulfed their dreams and lives.
During the remainder of the production we are left stunned again and again until the final moments of truth come. They are exacted at a heavy price of painful admission by Richard and Beth who finally face each other’s reality.
With dark humor, pathos and poignancy, and through gradual enlightenment, Boswell’s characters find their way out of the morass of anger, fear, regret and weakness surrounding the pivotal event which changed all of their lives. The ensemble has worked with absorbing, focused effort to bring this production toward powerful and truthful realism under the sterling and watchful shepherding of James Franco. Sheedy portrays Sarah with an ease of moment to moment precision that is a joy to experience. There is just enough restraint and humanity, pain and petulance undergirded with the appropriate amount of tension for us to doubt and believe her testimony about her son. We sense she is determined to keep the vigil to the bitter end despite what may happen, in a standoff to see the truth out. When Haze and and O’Reilly come together in confrontation after confrontation, we are drawn toward them and repulsed. We wonder at their honesty. We remain engaged. Brian Lally sustains the moderated support and kindness necessary to reveal Henry’s love for his son. Allie Gallerani is sufficiently presumptuous, crass and obnoxious. Yet, she suffuses vulnerability when Richard turns the tables around and lures her with notes of sexual temptation.
This world premiere leaves us with much to consider. Do men and women understand the boundaries of consensual sex at the same level. Should they? Must we continue to tolerate the inequity of the justice system which allows power and money to influence, buy or nullify convictions? When lives are destroyed by deceptions, can the truth bring renewal? Each of these and many more themes are threaded through this fine production of The Long Shrift, which is running until August 23rd.
This review appeared in Blogcritics at this link.