By Alexandra Mölleken
At 11am on a sunny Sunday morning, roughly 70 dogs scrimmage on the forecourt of York Picturehouse. Their owners are queueing to collect their tickets, get freshly baked popcorn, buy a cool refreshment on this mild spring day. The quadrupeds waggle happily with their tails as if they cannot wait to be left outside while their owners are enjoying a movie.
But that tail wagging is different, jollier, totally exhilarating. What is behind this turmoil of dogs? The dogs are waiting themselves. Curious to enter the cinema, expectant to snuggle in the comfy seats, ready for their first dog-friendly screening in their lives ever. For free, of course, as only the humans have to pay.
City Screen Picturehouse York is hosting the first dog-friendly screening in its history on this Sunday morning in March, welcoming dogs and their owners to watch a preview of Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’.
“We’d seen that other cinemas had done successful dog-friendly screenings and just thought that the release of ‘Isle Of Dogs’ seemed the ideal opportunity to try it for York,” says Dave Taylor, marketing manager of City Screen Picturehouse York.
Several cinemas all over the United Kingdom, for instance in London, Cambridge and Swansea, have offered dog-friendly screenings and serve as successful trailblazers to give it a try in York. As Mr Taylor stresses the main intention of this event: “It gives dog-owners a chance to socialise in a space where they would not generally be welcome.”
Blankets and bowls are handed out before looking for a seat in cinema number one, the cinema’s biggest hall. “The screen fits in 203 people, we printed half of the allocation as complementary tickets to account for the dogs having a seat,” says Cath, member of the staff who is organising the dog-friendly screening.
A slight smell of dogs’ breath mixed with a breeze of fresh baked popcorn lies in the air when entering the cinema. Nearly every third seat shows a furry dog’s head, excitingly panting, well-behaved sitting between their owners.
“We wanted to see the film and we thought it was a wonderful, mad, daft thing to do on a Sunday morning. And it’s lovely to bring Finn,” says Toni who is visiting the cinema with her husband Arny and Sheltie Finn. Finn straightens up his ears every time another dog enters the cinema.
He greets Chris and Jane with their little puppy Ivy with a lovely snuffle who sit down next to them. “Ivy is a well-behaved dog and is very relaxed as she had a big walk this morning. So she will lie down on our laps and will straight go to sleep when the movie starts,” says Jane.
The lightning turns down slowly and roughly 70 quadrupeds – from tiny Chihuahuas and lively Terriers to fluffy Collies and classy German Shepherds – pleasurably snacking their biscuits and sinking deeper in their Bordeaux seats the closer the movie start gets.
Simultaneously with the drums, finally introducing the movie’s story, the dogs begin to bark with the rhythm and only stop when the music ends. Wes Anderson tells the story of twelve-year-old Atari Kobayashi and his canine friends on a mission against dictatorial oppression in his animation. Set in a dystopian future Japan, the country’s leaders exiled all dogs to ‘trash island’ caused by an outbreak of dog flu. Thus, the young boy goes on a journey to find and safe his companion Spot.
A conspicuous smell spreads slowly tier by tier and marks the difference to an only human-screening, hopefully: dogs do apparently not care about releasing a fart or belch when getting over-excited.
As the movie makes its way, the dogs proof immense patience and manners. None is barking, attacking their furry seat neighbours or causing any kind of drama. The staff is impressed and spontaneously decide to hand out some extra treats for the quadrupeds for their superb behaviour. A little rustling and nibbling makes itself felt for some minutes when the dogs devour their fancy dog-biscuits.
Entire silence adjusts straight after the snack interruption because the dogs are curious to watch the final minutes of the movie. The movie asks its audience for one more action as screening a sad scene. When the dogs in the movie start yowling, nearly all 70 birds of a feather in the cinema join and create a touching atmosphere to end this unique event.
When the lightning is switched on after 101 minutes of screening, some quadrupeds are still fast asleep on their owners’ laps or do not feel ready to leave their comfy seats. For many, it will be their first and only time on a chair which is why the dogs try to postpone their leave.
“Usually he is not allowed on sofas or chairs, so this is pretty exciting for Finn. We actually hope he won’t try to do it at home after this,” admits Toni, looking a little worried at Finn who does not make a move to leave his seat yet.
However, many dogs rush out the cinema, down the stairs and back to the courtyard where their adventure had begun, leaving behind a furry cinema hall in need of a deep cleaning. This was already predicted by the manager who said that staff was “prepared for a ‘deep clean’ after the screening” anyway. “It’s forty minutes of cleaning in that auditorium,” adds Mr Taylor.
Appealing to upcoming cinema visitors who might worry about allergy struggles caused by the dogs, Mr Taylor gives the all-clear: “Obviously, we can’t completely guarantee an allergen-free environment but the dog blankets help as most dog hair and dander should be caught in the blankets. The deep-clean will further reduce the persistence of allergens.”
The dog-friendly screening took place on Sunday, March 25th at 11am in the City Screen Picturehouse York on Coney Street. Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle Of Dogs’ is released on March 30th in More information is available on the website: https://spotlight.picturehouses.com/film/dog-friendly-human-previews-isle-dogs/.