Canada’s largest movie exhibitor is launching a new “sensory friendly” screening series that caters to people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.
Cineplex Entertainment began the pilot project in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada on Feb. 14. The first wave of screenings played at 12 theaters across several Canadian provinces as the company gauges interest.
“We wanted to make sure we created a program that would be well received and utilized by the community,” said Pat Marshall, Cineplex VP of communications and investor relations.
Cineplex, with nearly 80% of Canada’s cinema market, plans to hold the screenings at off-peak hours to ensure smaller crowds.
Auditorium lighting is kept bright, with movies only shown with 2D projection and the volume turned lower than usual.
A nearby “calm zone” lets viewers take a break from the screenings.
Audiences are allowed to break the usual theater rules by bringing in outside snacks to accommodate dietary restrictions.
The ticket costs less too. Guests of all ages will be admitted for a child price to keep an outing manageable for the entire family.
The decision is part of Cineplex’s plan to address the vastly different needs of audiences, Marshall said.
In the past, some families with autistic children attended Stars and Strollers screenings for new moms, which didn’t really suit them, even though it was the only alternative to a regular screening, she added.
Cineplex launched the series with “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” while “Cinderella” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” are slated for the coming months.
Other movie theater chains also host special screenings for parents of kids with autism.
In 2007 AMC Theatres began its ongoing “Sensory Friendly Films” program, which now happens monthly in select U.S. cities.
Other U.S. and U.K. exhibitors hold occasional screenings in partnership with autism organizations as well, though tickets are generally sold at regular price.
“The overwhelming positive comments from parents and children made our hearts sing,” said Marshall of the first weekend response. “They were so grateful and so appreciative. We heard over and over again how this was the first time they felt they could take their child to the movies. Honestly, I read some emails from our theater teams and it made want to cry, I was so happy. It really was a lovely event, and we knew immediately we would be expanding this further over the next few months.”