People line up to by tickets for the Christmas opening of “The Interview” on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 23, 2014, after the Plaza Theatre announced that it would be showing the movie. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

Plaza Theatre selling tickets to controversial film ‘The Interview’

Workers began putting up the words “Freedom prevails” Tuesday afternoon on the marquee for the Atlanta Plaza Theatre, one of a few independent movie houses that will be showing “The Interview” on Christmas Day.

While the chain theaters refused to show the controversial parody about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because of threats of violence, Atlanta Plaza and independent theaters in Ohio, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina worked out deals with Sony Pictures Entertainment to show the film.

Plaza owner Michael Furlinger got an email from Sony around 11 p.m. Monday that Plaza may get the picture and the deal was confirmed around 12:30 p.m., he said.

The Plaza first teased it was getting the movie on its Twitter account moments after it was confirmed that Sony was sending “The Interview” to Atlanta. “The Biggest Plaza news in its 75 year History to be released soon!”

That was followed by, “Breaking Plaza News: The Interview will open Exclusive on 12/25. The Plaza will be one of the few theaters in the nation to open the film.”

As soon as word got out, moviegoers began showing up at the art deco-style theater on Ponce de Leon Avenue in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood to buy the $10 tickets. Some decided to come only because of the controversy.

Dan Pedersen showed up to buy tickets for himself and seven others, four of them from England. Peterson said he had no interest in seeing “The Interview” — featuring James Franco and Seth Rogen as tabloid TV journalists recruited to kill the leader — until the email hacking and the threats of violence at any theaters that showed it.

“No way,” Pedersen said when asked if he would have seen the movie if not for the controversy. “I don’t think those guys are that funny.”

But, he said, “free speech is the fundamental principal of civilization that will hold our world together. When North Korea shuts down Sony Pictures, that’s a very frightening thing for any American. That disgusts me.”

Plaza owner Furlinger said there would be some security measures in place — no backpacks or briefcases, for example — but otherwise moviegoers would notice little has changed except for the crowds.

The movie will be showing on both screens. There are 600 seats. By late Tuesday, only a limited number of tickets remained.

“There’s nothing worse that censorship and what this has turned into is blackmail,” Furlinger said.

His first communications were via email until he became concerned that it was “hacked email.” Furlinger confirmed the emails with a phone call to Sony in California.

“We’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Sony studio’s CEO Michael Lynton.

He did not say how many would show the movie, but none of the big theater chains, like AMC or Regal, have said they’ll support the Christmas release.

Shortly after the announcement Tuesday co-star Rogen tweeted: “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!”

Furlinger said it will be interesting to see if the chains changed their minds when they see the huge profits the independent theaters expect to make.

Sony initially pulled the satirical movie after the movie company’s email accounts were hacked and embarrassing missives were made public. Major theaters chains said they would not show the movie because of hackers’ threats of violence against them and their patrons.

Ironically, Georgia movie theaters were among the first to refuse to show the film. Last week Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas announced it would not show the movie due to concerns about the safety of their patrons. By the middle of the day Wednesday national chains AMC, Cineplex, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark had all pulled the film from their lineups.

The FBI has said North Korea was responsible for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer network last month, crippling the network and stealing almost 38 million files. The damaging and embarrassing stolen files have since shown up on file-sharing websites.

Soon after Sony said it would not be releasing the movie, President Barack Obama, along with many in the entertainment industry, criticized the decision.

“I wish they had spoken to me first,” Obama said. “I would have told them do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”

North Korea has denied launching cyber-attacks linked in retribution for the movie about the fictional killing of its leader.

Obama promised the United States would have a proportional response to the hacking and on Monday, for several hours, North Korea lost its access to the internet. The White House declined to comment on whether the U.S. government was responsible.

On Tuesday, North Korea warned in a statement there could be strikes against the White House, Pentagon and “the whole US mainland.”

Staff reporter Bo Emerson contributed to this story.

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