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Film Controversial anti-abortion film Unplanned heading to Canadian theatres

Unplanned focuses on Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who becomes a prominent anti-abortion activist.

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A U.S. film critical of Planned Parenthood and critiqued as “proselytizing agitprop” is heading to Canadian theatres four months after its American release. Unplanned, adapted from the memoir of the same name by Abby Johnson, focuses on a former Planned Parenthood director in Texas who becomes a prominent anti-abortion activist. According to a release by the film’s Canadian distributor, Cinedicom, Unplanned will open in Canada on July 12.

The film is from writers-directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who previously worked on such evangelical-centric projects as the God’s Not Dead series, in which religion is debated on campus, and Do You Believe?, focusing on a pastor’s struggle with faith. Unplanned stars Ashley Bratcher (who has appeared in such faith-based films as War Room and 90 Minutes in Heaven) as Johnson.

The film, which has earned more than US$18-million since its release in U.S. theatres on March 29, boasts an “A+” rating on CinemaScore, which tracks audience reaction, but has earned withering reviews in the press. Variety said that the film “isn’t good drama but it’s effective propaganda,” while The Hollywood Reporter said the feature “demonizes Planned Parenthood to such a degree that you expect the organization to be the villain in the next Marvel movie.” The Guardian labelled it “a gory mess.”

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Planned Parenthood said the film, distributed in the United States by Pure Flix, a company specializing in “faith and family” entertainment, “promotes many falsehoods including most importantly, distortions and incorrect depictions about healthcare.”

Last month, a website called canadawantsunplanned.ca was set up as a “grassroots initiative by a coalition of volunteers” to call for a boycott of Cineplex Entertainment over allegations that the theatre chain refused to exhibit the film in Canada. However, Sarah Van Lange, executive director of communications for Cineplex, said the company has been in touch with the site owners to “help clarify and correct some misunderstandings for some time.” (Representatives for the site have not replied to a request for comment from The Globe and Mail.)

Unplanned will be screened in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

“We have a long legacy of not censoring content ... the responsibility for censorship falls to provincial and territorial governments, through the classification boards,” Van Lange said in an e-mail to The Globe on Wednesday. She added that for any film to be exhibited at Cineplex theatres, it must have a Canadian distributor with a marketing plan that “we feel ensures the film will have commercial viability in the marketplace,” as well as a classification from a provincial ratings board. According to Cineplex, Unplanned was recently classified by the Ontario Film Review Board, but Cineplex has not been contacted by Cinedicom to negotiate screenings.

"We learned yesterday through social media that the film now has a distributor in Canada and we would welcome a conversation with the team at Cinedicom to discuss their plans," Van Lange wrote.

BJ McKelvie, president of the Fredericton, N.B.-based distribution company Cinedicom, said in a release, “I complained to God that I was hearing that Unplanned was banned in Canada and I heard His voice loud and clear, ‘Why don’t you distribute it?’ It was a defining moment for me.”

A representative for Unplanned told The Globe on Wednesday that the film has confirmed screening locations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. “Our distributor reports a high demand for the movie so we expect it to be shown in as many theatres as are interested in showing it,” said Lisa Wheeler, president of Carmel Communications and a co-producer of Unplanned.

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