After a struggle to find distribution, the anti-abortion movie “Unplanned” will in fact be screened in mainstream Canadian movie theatres — but only in a few limited markets, and only for one week.
Canada’s two biggest film distributors, Cineplex and Landmark, confirmed that they will screen the movie, which both film critics and women’s groups have called “propaganda.” Starting July 12, the movie will be shown in 14 of Cineplex’s 164 theatres, and in 10 of Landmark’s 44 theatres.
“We of course understand and can appreciate the concerns some have expressed about this film,” Cineplex spokesperson Sarah Van Lange told HuffPost Canada.
“We have a long legacy of not censoring content and our role as a film exhibitor is to provide our guests with movie choices. Ultimately, it is up to the public to decide whether or not they would like to see a particular film.”
In a public statement on July 8, Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob defended the company’s decision, writing that it “was not made easily or lightly” but that he is “confident that it was the right decision for us, for you and for our country.”
“When I immigrated to Canada back in 1969, one of the things that I loved, and still love, the most about living here was that we don’t shy away from our differences,” he wrote.
“In this instance many of us will have to set aside our own personal beliefs and remember that living in a country that censors content, opinions and points of view because they are different from our own is not a country that any of us would want to live in.”
Landmark is offering the option of people arranging private screenings if they live in a city where the movie won’t be showing.
“Unplanned” will also be shown in a handful of independent cinemas, such as the Port Theatre in Cornwall, Ont. and the Burin Cinema in Burin, N.L.
Medical experts have said that the movie, based on the memoir of a former Planned Parenthood employee who became an anti-abortion activist, is wildly unrealistic in its depiction of abortion as dangerous, and abortion providers as callous and money-hungry.
The movie’s Canadian distributor Cinedicom had previously referred to the movie’s “major Canadian release.” And Grandin Media, a religious outlet based in Alberta, had originally reported that the movie would be screened in “100 to 200” Canadian theatres.
But the fact that it will only be in 24 major theatres for a length of one week does not represent a failure, according to the president of Carmel Communications, the Catholic public relations firm representing the movie.
“The idea of a major release based on a timeline is not what the filmmakers were referencing,” Carmel’s president Lisa Wheeler told HuffPost Canada in an email. “For Canada, a release that will put the film on as many screens as possible is the goal. It’s about number of people seeing, not length of period playing.”
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), told HuffPost Canada she was “disturbed” to hear that “Unplanned” is getting a major release, although she was glad to hear it was a short run.
“The anti-choice movement is quite large in the U.S., so it appears the film has done better than expected there,” she said.
She pointed to the filmmakers encouraging people to “buy out” theatres as a way to bolster support.
“This could make the film appear to be doing better than it really is at first, while they work to achieve saturation of one small market segment,” she said.
“It will soon drop like a stone, because I doubt that many people beyond the religious right and the anti-choice movement will bother to see the movie.”
Arthur says the movie is unlikely to achieve its stated goal of changing Canada’s abortion policy, but it could still cause harm to abortion providers.
“The film’s vicious falsehoods against providers could incite hatred and violence against them, including here in Canada,” she said in a statement.
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