MEH. WHY DON’T YOU JUST FIND ANOTHER BAKER?
THE RISE OF JORDAN PETERSON film got pulled from a week-long theatrical run. Here’s our response to the response.
It’s been a crazy last few days for us at Holding Space Films. We’re receiving an outpouring of mostly support, some outrage and some criticism about “manufacturing controversy” around the cancellation of The Rise of Jordan Peterson film’s week-long theatrical run at a cinema in Toronto. To clarify some confusion around what happened to elaborate on why this cancellation matters, we wrote this post.
THE BAKERY CONUNDRUM.
A commonly discussed scenario among libertarians is the question of whether a baker should have to bake a cake for a gay couple getting married if their religious beliefs compel them otherwise. Should it be an open market decision and up to the baker to decide? Or should human rights laws enforce that service-providers cannot discriminate their services to people based on gender, sexual orientation, race, etc?
Internally our team has disagreements about the answer to this question, but some have compared our theatrical situation to this baker scenario.
OUR BAKER TOOK BACK THEIR CAKE.
An agreed upon theatrical run of our film set for four screenings per day for a full week beginning on October 27 was cancelled at Carlton cinema in Toronto after one or more staff (who likely did not see the film) complained about it. This placed the cinema in a tough position, which we empathize with, but they pulled the run. The most disappointing part of this is that the decision was not based on the film’s content or treatment, but the film’s subject matter and pre-conceived notions about that subject matter by staff who didn’t want to upset some patrons.
No cinema is obligated to show our film, obviously! But it’s one thing to receive a no because of a genuine decision based on merit or because a theatre doesn’t think your film is good enough. It’s a competitive marketplace after all. It’s another story when the fear or avoidance of staff issues becomes the deciding factor of your theatrical run.
Other theatres said things to us that were roughly like:
The film is fair and interesting but we can’t in good conscience contribute to the cult of personality around Peterson…
People only want to see films about their heroes and won’t pay money to see a film about someone they don’t like. It’s not commercially viable…
Nuanced films don’t sell in theatres…
We’re afraid of protesters…
Our executive producer Paul Kemp raised a poignant question about this: Would this type of reaction happen to a classic documentary like ‘Fog of War’ today?
OUR NEW BAKER.
Because of these hurdles, we decided to use cinema-on-demand (COD) platforms to get our film into theatres. This is why we still have screenings taking place. Even our Toronto premiere is running through COD platform Demand Films. These platforms enable people to request a film in their city and if 40% of tickets sell, the screening moves forward. We’re absolutely grateful to have this alternative as an option so our film can still have a theatrical life! It places power in the hands of people who want to see films and it enables the creation of conversations around films at event screenings, which we really want to see happen with our film. But the reason we are speaking publicly about the cancellation is because it matters: Should staff complaints dictate cinema decisions? Less the irony about a film featuring someone who criticizes political correctness getting pulled because of political correctness...
There are also real consequences for filmmakers. Profit margins with the model we’re using are half of what they would be with a traditional theatrical run, and we’re still paying off post-production costs. All the marketing is being done ourselves and with the help of people who request/host screenings (without a theatrical run, the film doesn’t get posted on regular cinema listings). Another consequence is that a lot of smaller cinemas outside of Toronto look for a major cinema to take the lead on a theatrical screening before they say yes, as it opens up their market, so there’s a trickle down effect that this “no” has on our ability to get other theatrical screenings. There are also industry news outlets like Variety that won’t cover/review films if they don’t have a proper theatrical run. COD doesn’t qualify in their eyes.
So, as filmmakers who dedicated four years of our lives to making this documentary, this matters not only to producer Maziar Ghaderi and I but to the future of controversial and nuanced documentary films making it in the theatrical market.
We found another baker, but this conversation still matters.