If you’ve been living under a rock, or just returned from vacation in the Internet-free hermit kingdom of North Korea, the biggest movie story of the year (and current holiday film season) is The Interview. First it was pulled from planned Christmas Day release by Sony Pictures after its computer network was massively and embarrassingly hacked by presumed agents of Kim Jong-un. After being publicly shamed by President Obama and half of Hollywood for this cowardly capitulation, the studio managed to assemble a batch of roughly 300 independent cinemas to show the film. (Streaming options are also now currently available.)
In Seattle that group includes the Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City, which begins screening The Interview on Christmas Day. (Both shows are sold out; the movie continues through New Year’s Day at 2:30 and 9:30 p.m., with tickets available online.) The friendly neighborhood triplex, formerly a Masonic Lodge, has been owned and run since 2012 by David McRae.
Why’d he book the controversial comedy about the assassination of dictator Kim Jong-un by TV nitwits Seth Rogen and James Franco? “Sony came to me, and yes I raised my hand,” says McRae. He’d already signed an online petition for Sony to release the film, organized by Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League and endorsed by Michael Moore. As more indie exhibitors joined the effort, Sony swiftly reconsidered its decision to pull the film. The syndicate came together rapidly during a busy holiday week, McRae explains. “I’d already put my name on the line. I said I would play it if it were available”—this despite the fact that he’d have to shoehorn The Interview in among the other three titles he’d booked (and was contractually obligated to play): Top Five, The Hobbit 3, and Into the Woods.
Ironically, and unlike most theater bookings, McRae hasn’t even seen the movie, since he skipped the trade screening. “Two stoners running around in their underwear” is how he views the usual Rogen-Franco formula (see Pineapple Express). The Interview doesn’t really fit the Ark Lodge’s usual demo, says McRae, which skews more toward family-friendly fare like Into the Woods and Selma (the latter coming next month). Before the Sony hack and Interview imbroglio, “I never even considered it” as a potential booking.
Now, sight unseen, says McRae, “This is free publicity I could never afford to buy.” Online ticket sales are strong, and The Interview could continue at the Ark Lodge into January—despite the competition from Sony’s licensed online streaming—as a late-night movie. “It’ll definitely bring people to the theater who wouldn’t otherwise come down here,” says McRae. The exclusive engagement also carries a whiff of notoriety and First Amendment defiance. Among the potential audience for The Interview, he sees an attitude of “You can’t tell me what to do.” As both a businessman and free-speech proponent, he says of the coerced near-cancellation of the film (whatever its merits and future reviews), “We’re stronger when we face this. I can not turn down an opportunity like this.”
And now, says McRae, he’s actually curious to see The Interview himself. “I definitely want to watch it.”
ARK LODGE CINEMAS 816 Rainier Ave. S., 721-3156, arklodgecinemas.com.