Nearly 3,000 people packed the Edmonton Expo Centre to watch the first public screening of a pro-life feature film that’s been effectively blocked by Canada’s two major movie theatre companies.
“It’s a super important film,” Laura Kakoschke said after the May 14 screening of the movie, which is just under two hours long.
“It’s a voice for what is happening that nobody wants to admit is happening and it’s a voice for the unborn children who have no voice.”
Unplanned has exceeded all expectations at the box office earning about $18 million in its U.S. run since its release in late March.
In Canada, there have been two private screenings in Ottawa – one for Members of Parliament, and another following a press conference by the producers of Unplanned.
However, the producers say they have been unable to find a Canadian distributor and that the film has been effectively blocked from a wider audience.
Canada’s two largest movie chains – Cineplex Odeon and Landmark – have no plans to show the film citing the film’s content, according to Chuck Konzelman, a director of Unplanned.
At this time, private sponsorship is the only way to screen the film to Canada. The free Edmonton showing was hosted by Harvest Ministries International.
One of the film’s producers, Sheila Hart, said they were deeply disheartened, but seeing the thousands of Canadians gathered for the Edmonton screening has restored her confidence.
“This is a key moment in Canada’s history,” she said. “We believe that hope will rise and the country will claim justice for the unborn.”
Marc Brisebois, a member of the committee that brought Unplanned to Edmonton, agreed.
“This is a sign to the whole nation,” Brisebois said.
“I think the tide is turning. There’s something awakening in the psyche of Canadians on the abortion issue that hasn’t been there for a very long time.
“This is a pivotal window of time now that it’s been 50 years, virtually to the day, since abortion was legalized. We’ve been without protection for the unborn for a very long time. Since the film is doing so well in the U.S. and the reception has caused such a ripple effect, it just seemed like a natural fit for what it is we’re after.”
Brisebois added: “The media seems to be so committed to the idea that this is a settled issue – Canadians are basically pro-abortion. The response here tonight shows that this is not the case and the momentum is beginning to shift.”
After watching Unplanned, Christopher Snaith said: “It’s disappointing that the film might not see wider distribution. It’s a much-needed message for Canada at this time.”
Abortion was decriminalized in Canada in May 1969. Since 1988, Canada has had no law prohibiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy. However, access to abortion differs in each province. In Alberta, 12,706 abortions were reported in 2017 and as many as 13,815 in 2014, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
In her memoir and in the film, Abby Johnson describes how she not only oversaw over 20,000 abortions while working at Planned Parenthood, she also had two abortions herself. Her feelings of regret were a major part the theme of Unplanned.
Laura Kakoschke feels Johnson’s story will be particularly powerful for women who are struggling with the guilt of an abortion for many years afterward.
“There are so many women who have had abortions who have not healed,” Kakoschke said.
“These things can be stuffed away and repressed but if we can face up to it and admit it and mourn it – the truth will go a long way. I think the film might give these women some healing.”
For Corina Benoit, an important takeaway from the film is how Johnson was able to overcome so many obstacles in her transition from Planned Parenthood employee to pro-life advocate.
“I appreciated that it showed all the suffering that still comes from going forward to do something good, how her journey was full of trials and doubts but that there was still victory,” Benoit said.
Brisebois says abortion is one critical issue they touch on with the conference, and they instantly jumped on the opportunity to contact the film’s producers and show Johnson’s story.
The film left a major impact on those who watched it. The film opens with Johnson seeing first-hand the graphic and bloody details of an abortion. He says scenes like this were difficult to watch – but necessary.
“Some people might complain about how gruesome it is, but in real life it is even more gruesome. In real life abortions there are actual lives at stake,” said Matt Long, a Catholic.
“Those critical scenes were really well executed.”
The movie also showed the pressures put on Johnson by her boyfriend at the time of her first abortion.
Long said this sent a clear message that men have to take responsibility.
“As men we need to do more – that message has to get out,” he said. “If men are supposed to be defenders and protectors we have a huge role to play. We need to recognize the consequences of our actions and that we have to control our urges with virtue and treat women with dignity.”
A scene where a Planned Parenthood clinic is closed down towards the end of the film even brought many cheers from audience members.
As a Catholic, Snaith said he was particularly impressed with the way the film portrayed the role of faith in Johnson’s life and in the pro-life cause.
“They didn’t shy away about talking about God candidly, and including him as part of the story,” Snaith said.
“They didn’t treat God as just an instrument for her to heal and turn away from abortion. They treated God like He’s real, He’s active and He is in an actor in all of this too.”
More information on screening is available through the movie’s website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
-With files from Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
Follow our reporter @kylegreenham for live Twitter updates.
Edmonton Expo getting packed in preparation for #Unplanned screening in Edmonton. First public screening in Canada after many theatre chains have banned the film. @UnplannedMovie @AbbyJohnson #prolife #yeg pic.twitter.com/xjDW21Mdbr
— Kyle Greenham (@KyleGreenham) May 15, 2019
More stories about Unplanned: