“We have corn!” said Ethan Everly, U3 Mechanical Engineering and president of Peel Street Cinema as he listed some of the allures of the group’s live movie screenings.
Popcorn is just one element of a movie theatre’s ambience. Of course, it can be made in the comfort of an apartment, but the joy of eating a bag of movie-theatre kernels is not quite matched by shovelling Orville Redenbacher’s into one’s mouth alone in a bedroom.
When opting to forgo the experience of a “live” movie screening for a more solitary experience, other pleasures are lost. Movie theatres provide richer social and aesthetic experiences than those offered by watching films alone, on a laptop or a small TV screen.
“I think when you go watch a movie on a big screen […] in a theatre, there’s a certain ambience to it that you don’t get when you’re at home,” Everly said. “It’s nice to have a separate space where you can relax, turn off your brain, and not think about the outside world.”
For the introverted film lover, taking a trip across town and sitting next to a group of strangers might not be the most enticing proposition, but the benefits of this experience far outway its cons.
“It’s nice to watch movies with other people and to laugh together, even if they’re strangers,” Everly said. “It just makes the movie better. It’s like watching a funny YouTube video. Obviously it’s going to be better if you have people to share that laughter with.”
Peel Street Cinema is a McGill club that hosts weekly film screenings and discussions. These free events take place at 3475 rue Peel, and students are encouraged to attend and discuss the wide selection of films. Recent screenings include Eve’s Bayou; Paris, Texas; and Pleasantville.
Students seem eager to attend. Everly and Charlie Mascia, U2, Arts, VP internal of Peel Street Cinema, noted how much the club has grown in the past few months.
“We probably had about 25, 30 people coming to screenings this semester on a slow week, [and a] slow week last year would’ve been like 4 or 5,” Mascia said. “Often people who aren’t in their first year will come to a screening and say, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know about this before!’”
This lack of awareness seems to be a common thread of screenings: There are plenty of opportunities for McGill students to visit these spaces, but students often don’t know or take advantage of them.
“I think people want to be immersed in some sort of film culture, but they don’t quite know how, even though it’s all around them,” Ara Osterweil, Associate Professor of World Cinema and Cultural Studies at McGill University, said. “Going to movies is a way of being a part of a conversation. A lot of students will come to my office and say ‘We want to be filmmakers!’ But when I ask them where they go to the movies or what their film culture is, they don’t really have an answer.”
Spaces like Peel Street Cinema, which offer affordable and diverse programming, have seen their attendance drop in recent years. Despite being a classic and widely beloved tradition, movie theatre attendance as a whole has fallen as well.
The numbers tell a complicated story. Since 1980, ticket sales increased in North America, peaking at 1.56 billion sold continent-wide in 2002. Since then, sales have dropped, despite a steady increase in box office revenue..
“It’s expensive to see a movie these days,” Everly said. “Theatres really aren’t accessible if you have to pay 20-plus dollars for a ticket and popcorn. I feel like Cineplex has become increasingly expensive. Cinema du Parc is really great, though.”
Cinema du Parc, located in the Galeries du Parc mall at the corner of Parc and Prince Arthur, offers a student rate of $9.75 for McGill and Concordia students and a $5 rate for everyone on the last day of a film’s run. The theatre’s catalog emphasizes independent movies and presents a variety of foreign films as well. The fresh programming and low prices have made Cinema du Parc a staple of film fans in the McGill community for decades.
“It really is right in the [Milton-Parc neighbourhood] and has great programming, often in English,” Osterweil said. “It even has that great seven-pass movie card. I don’t know if students take advantage of it. I like to bring them there, but I don’t know how much they go on their own. I hope they do.”
For the McGill movie buff, the pursuit of a like-minded community can be a challenging one. Cultural studies, the largest film-oriented program at McGill, seats only 85 students in its introductory course, ENGL 275, while Psychology seats 650 in PSYC 100. The constraints of classroom discussion make spaces like Cinema du Parc and Peel Street Cinema crucial to allowing these students to feel part of a film community.
“I think McGill students would benefit a lot from going to movies,” Osterweil said. “There seems to be a tendency for McGill students to just go from their apartment […] to campus and rarely get out into the greater Montreal area. When I take students to Cinema Moderne, they’re so happy to be there. And I’m glad to expose them to it, but I feel like if they went more often, they wouldn’t feel so confined. They’d also feel like they were participating in the cultural life of Montreal.”
Beyond the social and cultural benefits of movie theatres, there is also an aesthetic benefit to watching a film on a big screen. Aude Renaud-Lorrain, interim director of Cinema Moderne, an independent theatre in the Mile-End, highlights the technological capacity of the theatre, especially when compared with the usual student set-up.
“Better quality is a great reason to go to a cinema, especially for students who likely won’t have the equipment for a home theatre,” Renaud-Lorrain said. “Instead they’ll have their phone or their laptop, which really isn’t the same experience. Cinema Moderne is very equipped in terms of technology […] I think that people realize that if you’re really looking forward to seeing a film, you want to enjoy it in a cinema where the quality of the sound and the image will be really strong.”
Indeed, films that rely heavily on experimental visual elements cannot be fully appreciated if viewed on small devices with headphones. Furthermore, films with difficult plots and unique characteristics demand to be discussed and debated after the fact. It’s hard to do that seriously alone in an apartment. Thankfully, Cinema Moderne tries to provide space for those discussions to happen.
“We have this small, intimate theatre, but we also have the café-bar where people can have a drink, and where conversation can continue after films. That’s really an important part of our identity,” Renaud-Lorrain said.
At a university where the creatively-inclined can often feel isolated, film lovers should take advantage of the opportunities around them. The aesthetic and social benefits to seeing movies in theatres are vast, and the experience timeless. Of course, we cannot do any of this now, being distanced in our homes and relegated to the realms of individual screens. But perhaps the surge of apps like Zoom and Netflix Party reflect a universal truth: Movies together are better than movies alone. When all this is over, let’s support the theatres that make them happen.
Support Cinéma Moderne by renting movies online at https://www.cinemamoderne.com/en/, or donate directly at https://orora.smartsimple.ca/ex/ex_Evtpage.jsp?token=HQ4HSRMGZVhaQRBeXxNbQlNXbQ%3D%3D&parentids=2377655&lang=2.
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