Screening Room to launch $7 Family Matinee series

This Saturday, The Screening Room in downtown Kingston will launch its new $7 Family Matinee series. Photo by Josie Vallier.

With inflation driving up the costs of many goods and services, it can be difficult for families to plan activities without breaking the bank. A trip to the movie theatre is a popular way to escape for a few hours in the comfort of plush seats, along with popcorn, candy, and a soft drink. But while a trip to the movies is one of those rare activities that can incorporate a wide range of ages and interests, the cost is on the rise. 

On average, a single ticket to one of the city’s major multiplexes (Cineplex or Landmark) will cost around $11. Factor in the price of food, and you’re looking at close to $30 per person. For a family of four, a day out at the movies is likely to carry a price tag of over $100. In this financial climate, such a high price is likely too much for many families, especially those living paycheque to paycheque. 

But not all cinematic experiences need to be this expensive. A new program at Kingston’s Screening Room aims to provide family-friendly entertainment at an affordable price. The theatre’s new $7 Family Matinee series offers up child-friendly films for just $7 a ticket, giving local families an affordable entertainment option. 

“I am the mother of two young girls: I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old. My older daughter is getting old enough to watch movies, and she wants to come to the movie theatre,” said Wendy Huot, owner of The Screening Room. “Now that I’m a parent, I can see the need for parents to have affordable [and] fun things that they can do with their kids, especially events that are good in any type of weather.”

The Family Matinee series will take place on the first Saturday of every month, with Wes Anderson’s stop-motion classic ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ serving as the program’s inaugural film this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. In the coming months, the series will feature a number of family favourites such as Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T.,’ The Disney-Pixar hit ‘Inside Out,’ and the timeless classic ‘The Princess Bride.’ 

For several years now, Huot has tried to organize different family screenings, but they have been sparsely attended due to a number of factors. She explained, “Because we don’t play family-oriented films very often… parents don’t pay close attention to what we’re playing, and they don’t really [consider] The Screening Room a family-friendly place… The family films we’ve [shown] in the past just didn’t do very well, so I couldn’t see a way to play them and break even.”

The Screening Room’s $7 Family Matinee series begins Saturday, Apr. 1, 2023, with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ Image via The Screening Room.

That all changed earlier this month, when the theatre organized its first-ever March Break Movie Series, which, according to Huot, was well promoted and attended. “I used the March Break series to really draw attention to the fact that The Screening Room is now playing family films, with the idea that that series will give us momentum to begin doing family matinees once a month.” In fact, several of the films included in the March Break series will return for future family matinees in the months ahead, in addition to a wide range of different offerings.

“I’m looking forward to experimenting with different films,” Huot said. “We can play some of the really big-name Pixar films as well as some Disney animated classics. I can’t wait to play ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and the films I grew up with that parents and kids alike are familiar with… And I’m interested in playing films that are more like deep cuts from the 70s and 80s, like ‘The Last Unicorn’ or ‘The Secret of NIMH.'”

In the coming months, the matinee series will also feature several movies that aren’t necessarily thought of as “family films” in the conventional sense but are nonetheless appropriate for audiences of all ages. “For instance, we’re going to be playing ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ with Gene Kelly. I think it’s a very kid-friendly film, so we’re going to play it as a family matinee and hope people take that as an encouragement to bring their kids.”

While some of the Family Matinee films will also be shown at other times on the theatre’s schedule, Huot said giving certain screenings a specific family-oriented label makes for a more welcoming environment for children. “By having the special designated name, people will feel comfortable knowing that there’s going to be other kids… If their kids are going to get up and wander [or] make some noise or offer their own colour commentary… it’s not a problem.”

While the screenings will allow the theatre to create new affordable entertainment options for families in and around Kingston, the films have also created opportunities to bring young audiences into the cinema for the very first time. “When we were doing the March Break screenings, whenever I was present for the screening [I] would pop into the theatre beforehand, and I would ask the kids, ‘Show of hands, who here has never been to a movie theatre before?’ I think I must have seen 50 hands go up over the course of the series. So I found that incredibly touching; [it] made me kind of choke up,” remarked Huot.

Like many movie theatres globally, The Screening Room was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, staying shut for months in compliance with public health orders, only to face additional challenges throughout the province’s various phases of reopening. While the last few years have certainly been a challenge for the theatre’s owner, programs like the Family Matinees have allowed Huot to reimagine how she does business, including offering more classic films.

“Even before the pandemic, my favourite thing to do was play classic movies, but it wasn’t really profitable,” Huot said. “But during the last few years — I think partially due to the pandemic and partially due to people [watching] on streaming services — there’s [been] greater interest in seeing older films in the movie theatre than ever before.”

“‘Akira’ is [an anime] film we’ve played like three times, and we played it during the pandemic, and then we played it a few months ago. When we played it [recently], it did four times as well as the previous times we’ve done it… I think there’s a different mindset [now]. More people can understand why you might pay money to see something you can watch at home… People no longer expect the movie theatre to just play what’s new.”

The Screening Room’s $7 Family Matinee series officially gets underway this Saturday, Apr. 1, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ Admission is $7 plus HST for all guests. Along with the affordable ticket price, the theatre will also be selling $5 kids’ combos at the concession stand, featuring a small popcorn and a juice box. For children two and under, who can sit in their parent’s lap, admission is free. Tickets can be purchased in advance through The Screening Room’s website, or in person at the box office.

Future films in the series will be confirmed at a later date. According to Huot, the theatre is looking to secure sponsorship for the series’ future screenings. “I’m hoping to get sponsorship from local businesses that we can thank before the movies and help offset the cost of the screenings and keep prices low. Maybe we could go down to the $5 price point that we were at [during March Break], or we could make it free. [But] right now, $7 is sort of this in between where it’s affordable, but also, ticket and snack bar sales will pay for the screening.”

It should be noted that ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ will also play as part of the theatre’s Cult Movie Nights series, with showings scheduled for Mar. 31, as well as Apr. 2 and 6, 2023.

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