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Canada May 9, 2019

Unplanned film effectively censored by Canadian distributors 

By Deborah Gyapong

Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director, at a May 8 news conference. Behind her is Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus. (Deborah Gyapong photo)

OTTAWA (CCN)—Canadian movie distributors have de facto censored the movie Unplanned from screening in theatres here says the movie’s producers.

“We have been effectively blocked from distributing the film in Canada,” said producer Lisa Wheeler at an Ottawa news conference May 8.

Unplanned is based on the Abby Johnson’s memoir Unplanned: the dramatic true story of an Planned Parenthood director. 

“What we’re seeing is that the film industry in Canada mirrors the film industry here in the United States, in terms of being more politically progressive, left leaning and pro-choice than the population at large,” said Chuck Konzelman, the film’s writer/producer/director in an email interview. “So our project is essentially anathema to them, and they see excluding us from Canada as ‘positive good’… effectively enacting de facto censorship, without right of appeal.”
The movie has exceeded all expectations at the box office, earning about $18 million in its U.S. run, he said.

The two largest distributors in Canada cited ‘content’ as the issue, “not lack of consumer demand,” Konzelman said. 

“And this follows on the heels of universal rejection every Canadian distributor we approached, and whose participation is required – by law – in order to exhibit a film theatrically throughout much of Canada,” he said. “In fact, we can’t even get a rating by any of the provincial film boards, since one of the mandatory items on the application for each province is for us to list our distributor.”

“I would like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not,” Abby Johnson told the news conference the day before the National March for Life. “I have to wonder what they’re afraid of.”

Johnson said she left Planned Parenthood in Oct. 2009 for two reasons. The first was that she was told “we needed to double our abortion quota, the number of abortions we had to sell,” she said, noting that policy went against the mantra around abortion that it should be “safe, legal and rare.”

But the coup de grace for Johnson, in a gripping scene portrayed in the film Unplanned, was viewing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13 week pre-born child. “Seeing that child fight and struggle for his life against the abortion instrument,” made her realize “there was life in the womb, humanity in the womb.”

As a “proud feminist,” Johnson said she realized “what I had seen in the womb was a grave injustice.”

“I now go around the world, speaking about against abortion and the abortion industry,” said Johnson, who is the co-founder and director of And Then There Were None, an organization dedicated to helping abortion workers “get out of their jobs.”

Her organization has helped about 500 abortion workers leave the industry. Since the movie Unplanned played in 2,000 screens in the U.S. even more abortion workers are contacting her.
Johnson said she is deeply troubled by the lack of legal protection for the unborn in Canada. “I’m also deeply concerned that many people here have not been able to speak publicly, because they are concerned about punishment,” she said. “That is not democracy; that is oppression.”

Johnson said she knows of Canadian women who have come to the U.S. for late-term abortions paid for by Canadian tax dollars. The fact these women have to leave Canada for the procedure is a sign Canadians are uneasy about the issue and that is far from “settled,” Johnson said.

She pointed out Canada abolished slavery in 1834. “What would have happened if people in Canada had convinced themselves they not going to concern ourselves with slavery because the issue is settled?”

“It should concern all of us,” Johnson said. “We should never look at any form of injustice and call it settled.”

Wheeler said there are two ways Canadians can see Unplanned. They can rent buses and drive to the United States, or independent groups and parishes can obtain a license to screen the movie. “We’re not defeated by this,” Wheeler said. “Canadians want Unplanned here.”

Neither of Canada’s big chains have any plans to exhibit Unplanned.

“The film Unplanned presently does not have a distributor in Canada to market and undertake the necessary work, including for example securing the applicable provincial sensor certifications, to release the film across the country,” said Jack Gardner, vice president of marketing, sales and content programming for Landmark cinemas. “At one point, the film was to be distributed in Canada by Level Films, and since that time, the producers have unsuccessfully secured a partner to distribute the film in Canada.”

“The producers have inquired as to Landmark’s interest in distributing the film directly, and we are seeking additional information in regards to evaluating this scenario as we do not distribute films, but rather exhibit films in partnership with a films’ distributor,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Cineplex said no distributor had approached them about exhibiting Unplanned.

Konzelman said either chain could let distributors know they were interested in showing the movie and Unplanned a “distributor would jump to the fore.”

“Given the censorship in place, individual sponsorship is the only way in which we will be able to show in Canada,” Konzelman said. “We will be granting licenses for individual showings, at a time and place of the sponsor’s choosing  -- which can be a theater, if desired, or a parish hall, or any other venue.”

“Anyone interested in arranging for a sponsored showing should send an email to [email protected]Unplannedmovie.com,” he said.

The movie Unplanned is not the only film with a pro-life message to have trouble getting distribution in Canada.

The movie Gosnell, about the trial of America’s biggest serial killer, abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder of several babies after they were born alive in his clinic, also has faced difficulties getting a distributor.

The Gosnell writers and producers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer spoke at the National March for Life and the Rose Dinner May 9.

The couple based the film on their best-selling book Gosnell:  The untold story of America’s most prolific serial killer.  They crowdfunded the film via the Indiegogo website, raising  $2.3 million in 45 days through 30,000 donors.

McAleer had dropped in on the trial of the abortion doctor and found the testimony riveting. The DVD of the movie has been a bestseller on Amazon.

Despite breaking the existing abortion laws by doing abortions after the cut-off date of 24 weeks, and violating numerous health regulations such as having his staff administer anesthesia with no training except what he had given them, and reusing single-use surgical instruments, the producers pointed out Gosnell never faced any investigations by the Health department.

The Gosnell movie shows how the discovery of the murders of infants followed a DEA investigation because the abortion doctor was selling prescriptions for narcotics. Gosnell kept the feet of babies he killed in jars in his filthy clinic littered with bags of medical waste.

This story was updated Monday, May 13, to reflect that the cinemas are waiting for a distributor to be willing to pick up the film for showing in Canada.