x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Taking the scream out of multi-screen

Going to the cinema with small children can be problematic, but Cinemama hopes to make it an even more memorable experience.

The make-up artist Lili Inker entertains Elmalki, left, and Alexia Steer with some hand painting during the recent Cinemama event at Mercato Mall in Dubai.
The make-up artist Lili Inker entertains Elmalki, left, and Alexia Steer with some hand painting during the recent Cinemama event at Mercato Mall in Dubai.

The doors open and she walks hesitantly down the red carpet, people milling all around her. She stops to pose in front of the film's poster and camera flashes pop as the photographer takes his shot. Then, for this little girl, it's on to the face painting and balloon bending. Not your average film premiere, but movie-going Cinemama style. This summer as the heat cranks up and going outside is no longer appealing, Hollywood summer blockbusters lure us to the cinema where a new format of movie-going is making it even more fun for children.

Taking children to the cinema can veer from being a delightful family outing to an endurance fest depending, in equal measure, on luck, preparation and the behaviour of your children - and those around them. Once you have scouted out the age-appropriate movie, remembered your arctic fleeces to counter the über-effective air conditioning, and queued for several hours for popcorn, you have two hours of pure escapism.

That is if the people chatting on their mobile phones don't interrupt you, or your own children don't clumsily spill popcorn down the neck of the man sitting in front of you. "The trouble is, these days, children's films, particularly those ones by Pixar, are really good," says Lesley Cully, a mother of two living in Dubai. "You are just getting in to the film when you hear a little voice piping up, 'Mummy, I need to go to the toilet'. You ignore them, but then when they say it again you have to take them. Then you rush them, as they are dawdling back to the film, saying, 'Hurry up! I was really enjoying that!'"

Cully and her husband and two daughters, aged five and two, were among the audience of last month's Cinemama event, a families-only screening of Shrek Forever After. The day after the film opened, Cinemama, the brainchild of the Dubai-based Briton Kellie Whitehead, took over a screen at Grand Cinemas in Mercato Mall, Dubai, and sold tickets for Dh45 covering entry to the film, popcorn and a drink. But that was not all.

Going to the cinema on its own is usually enough to send a small child delirious with excitement, but at Cinemama, there is also a red carpet, photographers, balloon benders, face painters and a prize draw just before the screening. Me & Riley, a party organising company in Dubai, handed out goody bags with sticks of Me & Riley Blackpool Rock and other sweeties to children as they went in to the film.

Emma Riedel, the founder of Me & Riley and a mother of three young children, is a big supporter of Cinemama. "What Kellie's done is great," she says. "To have something planned and in place is really good. Often I intend to go to the cinema but it's vague and I never get round to it. Cinemama makes it easier. She charges regular prices, and then once I've planned it, it forces me to do it, because I have committed to it.

"Another thing is you know that you will see other people you know there which makes an outing out of it rather than just going to the movies." Cully agrees. "The cinema is a big deal to take children to, but this was even better. My husband commented on how nice it was that there were only families in the cinema," she says. "We really relaxed and enjoyed it. I told the girls, 'You're going to go to the cinema and to pose on the red carpet'. They were very excited."

Kellie Whitehead admits that Cinemama isn't an original idea. "They have these sort of events in most major cities around the world, but the way I do it is better," she says. "The events have all the benefits of being in a cinema just with families, but with added value." The next Cinemama event will be a screening of Toy Story 3 at Grand Cinemas in Mercato Mall this Saturday and is already almost sold out.

Whitehead is also hoping to start up movie mornings later in the month for families, showing old classic children's films. In terms of general film releases this summer, it's all about fun and 1980s nostalgia for children and parents respectively. In addition to the hugely anticipated Toy Story 3, for older children there is the remake of the 1980s film The Karate Kid and a film version of the TV series The A Team. Later in the summer there will be two new 3D-CGI adventures: Despicable Me featuring the voice of Steve Carell, and Fly Me To the Moon, with Christopher Lloyd.

So even though it's more than 40C outside, pop on your jumper, buy a bucket of popcorn and snuggle down with your children for some silver screen fun. For more information about Cinemama events, visit the Mamavents Facebook page www.facebook.com/mamaventsDubai.