Classics & interactive: The Screening Room

Kingston was dearly missing something, before The Screening Room brought classic movies downtown.

“I just thought… if we could watch classic movies in the cinemas in Kingston,” Wendy Huot, owner of The Screening Room, said, “then Kingston would have everything that I would want – no need to live in a bigger city.”

The former Queen’s web development librarian traded in backroom tech work to take over the independent theatre, The Screening Room, back in 2011, after five years of working with the library’s web presence and online catalogues.

“I had been thinking to myself, ‘If I could do anything what would I want to do?’” Huot said.

Cinemas, she explained, rely on more than just a film’s plot or its characters, but also the ambiance of the theatre itself.

I sat down with Huot to learn more about what The Screening Room has to offer to both students and the community:

How did you come about owning The Screening Room?
I’m a big cinema lover – love movies. Whenever I go to a different city, I check out different movie theatres … So I thought, if I could do anything I’d love to rent a cinema ... and one spring I was telling a friend about this [dream] – he’s a real estate agent – and he said, ‘if you’re interested in renting a cinema, The Screening Room is for sale’.

How does owning the Screening Room compare to previous jobs you’ve had?
It’s both similar and different … My training was in computer science and librarianship. And computer science, you’re really studying how systems work … examining processes and work flows, and that applies to running a small business – making sure everything works properly like clockwork and … troubleshooting [problems] in a systematic way. In other ways, it’s completely new, like I didn’t know anything about how to operate a popcorn machine or … [how to stock] the candy bar.

What’s one of the most or enjoyable aspects of your day-to-day job?
We have a number of people who are regular customers here; they’ll often come up to me afterwards and let me know what they think of the film … It’s always interesting to just to hear people’s post-film reactions … and then also just making predictions in terms of whether a film will be well received or not well received.

How often do people come dressed up for the shows?
We [showed] the Big Lebowski and we had a few people just [come] in their bathrobes, and then when we did Grease some people were wearing 1950s-inspired clothing. It’s only a handful of films that have a real cult following.

How does the Screening Room compare to chain cinemas like Cineplex?
We do a lot more special events than the big theatres. We bring in guest speakers. We’ll do films where we’ll allow all kinds of audience participation like the Rocky Horror Picture Show and sing along[s like] Grease… We play the cult movie The Room, where people throw plastic spoons.

We’re the only theatre downtown so … we’ll play stuff that plays at the big theatres – we’ll bring it downtown afterwards [for] the second run. But our specialty is in playing films that don’t play at the multiplex. We’ll appeal to kind of more specialized audiences: foreign language films, films that appeal to the queer community, films that might have a kind of offbeat sensibility.

And a lot of our movies … have gone through this whole process [at film festivals] ... so [they’re] often kind of audience tested to have a dramatic impact or interest.

What kind of topics do the guest speakers talk about?
Often with our classic movies we’ll group films in these little series, and it’s fun because rather than coming to one film, you can sometimes commit to seeing all the films in the series and you see the same faces at each screening. People will often chat with each other afterwards so there’s more of a film society community feel.

Though as a fourth year, I may have found out a little too late about one of Kingston’s best-kept secrets, The Screening Room – I’ll definitely be waiting in anticipation for what The Screening Room has to offer next.

With the dreary days of winter up ahead, there are many reasons to duck your head into the theatre to experience a new film. I call a trip to the Screening Room the perfect study break.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For more information about the Screening Room, please visit:

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