(Editor’s Note: This story was updated July 10 to clarify that the theatres that received two reported death threats have not been identified.)

Unplanned, the true story of an abortion clinic director turned pro-life activist, may be tackling an unpopular subject, but local theatres showing the film will not be empty next week.

At Cineplex Marine Gateway in Vancouver and Landmark Xtreme in Kelowna, tickets are hot.

The Kelowna Right to Life Society, offering the controversial film at 7 p.m. July 17, sold out all 173 available seats within six hours. “The level of interest this movie has generated across the United States and now Canada is amazing. In fact, I think we can go ahead and call it a phenomenon,” said executive director Marlon Bartram in a press release.

The pro-life society used minimal advertising – only direct messages to email subscribers and Facebook followers – and was surprised to see the reaction. Bartram said demand was so high, an additional showing was booked at the Landmark Grand 10 for 7 p.m. July 15.

“I expect a quick sell-out, and I will work on more showings after this one sells out. Demand is crazy with our phones and emails going off for two days now with people wanting to see the movie.”

Meanwhile in Vancouver, a local Catholic woman arranged a private screening at Cineplex Marine Gateway theatre of her own accord, without the backing of any organization. She booked an auditorium with 100 seats and worried about whether she would be able to fill them all; the only time slot available to her was 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 13. Instead, the opposite happened.

“I was inundated with requests for tickets,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “I had to call and ask for a bigger auditorium.” Within days, all 200 tickets were sold. Cineplex offered her a theatre with 300 seats, and she sold those out, too. Now she is thinking of offering a second showing, but can’t handle the overwhelming volume of email inquiries.

But while the film is generating a lot of buzz, not all of it is so positive. Two independent theatres, including the Salmar Classic in Salmon Arm, cancelled scheduled showings of Unplanned after threats were allegedly made against theatre staff.

“We have a track record of showing things from a variety of points of view … we try not to preclude things because of whatever personal opinions may exist on our board or something like that,” Chris Papworth, Salmar Community Association board member told newspapers.

“What’s different here … certainly in the past, there hasn’t been an effort to dox employees or, specifically, the general manager, by releasing their personal information on social media and then encouraging people to go after them as the one responsible for some heinous act,” Papworth said. 

“We just aren’t prepared for those levels of hostility towards our general manager.”

Shuswap Pro-Life, an area pro-life society, had advertised the film and was disappointed but understanding about the decision to cancel. 

Spokesperson Hildegard Krieg told The B.C. Catholic there are still plans to host the film: “We now hope that the theatre will be available soon for rent. No doubt those who were so vehemently opposed to the showing of Unplanned will be out picketing. But I am not worried about it, and that’s because we have the truth.”

The Movie Mill in Lethbridge, Alta., also received threats, according to B.J. McKelvie, the president of Cinedicom, the Canadian distributor of the film. There have also been at least two death threats made to Canadian theatres, he said.

Unplanned will be available for viewing at theatres across Canada for one week beginning July 12. Cineplex president Ellis Jacob said 14 out of 1,700 Cineplex auditoriums across the nation will carry the film. Landmark cinemas and independent theatres also have scheduled showings.

In B.C., theatres include Hollywood 3 in Pitt Meadows, Cottonwood 4 in Chilliwack, Colossus Langley, Cineplex Silvercity in Mission, Hollywood 3 in Surrey, Landmark University Heights in Victoria, Landmark Columbia in Cranbrook, Vernon Towne Cinema in Vernon, and Landmark Avalon in Nanaimo.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada released a statement June 25 calling Unplanned a “dangerous piece of anti-abortion propaganda.”

“The film’s vicious falsehoods against providers could incite hatred and violence against them, including here in Canada,” said executive director Joyce Arthur. “But the film also aims to challenge abortion rights. That’s a non-starter in Canada, where women and transgender people have a charter right to abortion based on their rights to bodily autonomy and equality.”

The president of Cineplex defended the theatre company’s decision to show the film.

In an open letter July 8, Ellis Jacob said the decision to screen Unplanned was “a complicated one and it was not made easily or lightly. But as leader of Canada’s largest film exhibition company, I am confident that it was the right decision for us, for you, and for our country.”

When Jacob immigrated to Canada 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 — we embrace them. Canada is a country that believes in and rallies behind freedom of expression, but that isn’t always an easy thing to do and it certainly doesn’t always make you popular.”

In showing the controversial film, “many of us have had to set aside our own personal beliefs and opinions 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.”

Full listings of theatres showing Unplanned can be found at unplannedfilm.com/canada or unplannedtickets.com. At press time, the film was scheduled to be shown at about 60 Canadian theatres in more than 40 cities.

With files from Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News.