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.