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“It’s not a life saver, but it is a brain saver”: in praise of parent & baby cinema screenings

A problem faced by new parents, particularly stay-at-home primary carers, is that it’s not merely possible, but actually highly likely, that you’ll go for up to a week at a time without leaving the house. This is particularly true in the winter months, and especially so if you have a partner who can pick up shopping on their way home from work, or use a grocery delivery service, or both.

Hi.

A reasonably recent innovation to combat this is parent and baby cinema screenings. These tend to be in the late morning of a week day, often before the cinema in question would ordinarily open, and are specifically flagged as “Baby Club” or similar in listings. The speakers are quieter, and house lights brighter, than at a normal screening, and  parents tend to be permitted to bring their prams and pushchairs into the auditorium, or allow their child to sit next to them, depending on their own preferences.

These aren’t screenings of children’s films, but of something that happens to be on general release anyway. This is great, because another problem faced by stay at home parents is the complete collapse of any time available to consume any art or media aimed at adults.

Hi.

Such screenings are more common in large cities than elsewhere in the country, at least partially because travelling with a baby is not easy. It’s inadvisable, and in plenty of circumstances actually illegal, for a lone adult to drive a car where the only passenger is a newborn. That means such screenings are more likely to thrive in places with extensive public transport networks or cinemas you can go to on foot. Yup, it’s another advantage of city livin’.

As such it’s probably unsurprising that of the few online aggregators of such screenings, none of which are pretty or comprehensive, Londonnet’s is probably the best. It also attempts, despite the title, to cover all such screenings across the UK and Ireland in any given week. By doing so it offers anyone not in Edinburgh the opportunity to envy the dazzling depth and diversity of films the city’s Filmhouse cinema includes in its Parent & Baby programme. There are some mornings I’ve been tempted to head to King’s Cross station rather than the King’s Cross Everyman, and I’m only just not serious.

Not long ago there was a small scandal about a cinema that would not let

someone take a baby into a standard screening of a film, and which quoted the film’s certificate as a reason to bar the child entry. Technically, legally, for PG and 12A rated films, a child of any age can attend with the consent of an accompanying adult. Some parent and baby screenings therefore limit their repertoire to films with such certificates and are relatively lax about the upper age limit for “baby” attendees.


Others, such as those at the Everyman chain allow children up to 12 months in any film, whereas from 12 to 24 months children are welcome in parent and baby screenings only for U and PG rated films. Most cinemas will also not allow customers who aren’t accompanied by an infant into parent and baby screenings, which not only guarantees a safe atmosphere, but also that no one is going to complain when, as inevitably happens, children cry or need changing, or the older ones try climbing towards the screen in order to better see what’s going on. (This prohibition isn’t merely theoretical; my brother in law was once turned away from a parent & baby screening for arriving without a child, not having realised what he’d booked for.)

It would be an exaggeration to call parent and baby cinemas a life saver, but it is a kind of brain saver. It’s a kind of virtuous circle. The prospect of seeing a film you’re not otherwise going to see in the cinema, if ever, pushes you out the door on certain days of the week when you might otherwise resign yourself to not. It adds routine to a period of life which, initially, knows little routine, being dictated by someone too young to have any concept of time. And it means a rush of stimuli into your brain that are wholly unrelated to looking after a baby. Even if you receive those stimuli while looking after a baby.

It also gives you a strange sense of your child’s progression. The first few times I took my son to a screening, he mostly slept through them. At six months he would sit in his pram looking towards the screen, and would object if he faced the other way. He understood that the screen was the point of being there, even if as far as he was concerned it was – at least according to my doctor – just some random lights, shapes, colours and sounds coming from other there. At a year old he insisted on sitting in his own chair next to me, before inevitably falling asleep.

It also gives you some good anecdotes about the unsuitable material your child is exposed to before they have any idea what’s going on. Recently I saw Armando Iannucci in a cafe and almost went up to him to tell him that he’d directed the first film my baby son had ever seen. It was The Death of Stalin. Although he didn’t like it as much as he liked The Shape of Water. Or try to walk out of it, like he did with Aquaman.

Incidentally, the most attended parent and baby screening I have ever been to, and there is no close second, was Ridley Scott’s All The Money In World, a film about the traumatic kidnap of a child. Whether that represents a failure of most parents attending it to properly check what they were going to see, or something deeply freudian, is a question probably best left unanswered.
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