Secret Cinema screen ‘The Great Dictator’ in protest of threats against ‘The Interview’
I don’t usually get political on my blog, nor is this an attempt to be. Regardless of your party affinity, I’m sure most people will agree that freedom of expression is an important right. As I write this review post a week after attending the Secret Cinema protest screening against censorship, Sony have now released their new film ‘The Interview’ after initially cancelling plans to do so.
However, just a week ago the story was very different. After weeks of embarrassing emails being leaked following a hack into Sony’s computer system, the Hollywood studio revealed it had received threats over ‘The Interview’, a movie about a fictional plot to kill the Communist nation’s leader Kim Jong-Un. In a move criticised by US President Barack Obama, Sony announced the film would not be released.
Before Sony’s U-turn and eventual release of the film online and at selected US movie theatres on Christmas Day, cinema event company Secret Cinema decided to host protest screenings in London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Rome simultaneously on December 21. The message was to protest against the attack on freedom of expression which the threats against ‘The Interview’ represented. Organised in less than two days and in tradition of Secret Cinema events, ticket holders were given instructions to wear a black suit and bring a gift for someone. The London screening was £25 per ticket, which along with the other cities, contributed to a total of £11,500 raised for global free speech charity Article 19.
Several hours before the screening we were emailed with the location – the stunning 1930s Art Deco The Troxy cinema in Limehouse, east London. So armed with our tickets, some gifts for a stranger and wearing our black suits, my friend and I arrived at The Troxy promptly at 6.30pm. Upon entering, we walked past protest banners and placards depicting the right to freedom of expression. The cinema was set out with large tables and chairs – an unusual seating arrangement for a film screening, but gave a stylish formality to what would usually be casual proceedings. Aside from the screening, guests were also entertained by jazz singer Jordan Jackson and performance poet Adam Kammerling with a short talk by Article 19’s Barbora Bukovská explaining the importance of free speech. Overall, the evening was relaxed and sophisticated – despite the serious message behind the event.
An hour into the evening, it was revealed the film would be the 1940 classic ‘The Great Dictator’, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). The movie stars Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel, the ruthless and unhinged dictator of the fictional country of Tomainia – a thinly veiled version of Adolf Hitler and Germany. When the film was originally released, the US was still officially at peace with Germany so it caused some controversy. Unsurprisingly the film was banned in many countries in Europe as it appeared to criticise Hitler and his regime. My friend and I had never watched the film before and found it both funny and moving. The three and a half-minute speech directly to camera with Chaplin’s beliefs towards the end of the film is particularly powerful and still relevant today. The choice of movie for the Secret Cinema protest could not have been more apt within the current debate on censorship in film.
For Metro Girl’s review of Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future screening, click here.