Thirty years of cinema in uptown

For Waterloo residents, the façades of the Princess Twin and Princess cinemas stand as figureheads in showcasing films that other local cinemas may not. They cater to a unique experience.

Photo by Alexandra Guizzetti
Photo by Alexandra Guizzetti

This year marks the 30th anniversary of local art house cinemas, the Princess and the Princess Twin. Originally opened in 1985, the theatres are still going strong and play a central part in Kitchener-Waterloo’s cultural scene.

“We’re embedded in the Waterloo community,” said Princess Cinemas’ owner John Tutt, a Wilfrid Laurier University graduate. “Since we opened in 1985, we’ve occupied the territory of the local art house cinema in the region and that basically means we are the cinema that plays foreign language films, documentaries, period pieces specialty cinema that the other cinemas don’t carry.”

Being such an integral part of Waterloo’s livelihood, the Princess isn’t in a lot of competition with chain cinemas in the area. Rather they are in competition with Waterloo’s arts scene, according to Tutt.

“I compete with all sorts of other cultural events in the city more than I compete directly with the chain cinemas. Music festivals … I would look at as more competition rather than some kind of new Adam Sandler movie.”

“I’m not really looking for that sort of mainstream audience anyways,” he said.

The distinctive blend of films the Princess offers provides many different opportunities for a variety of audiences, which is uncommon in the everyday chain cinema.

“Because we premiere movies, we’ve got a whole base of people in Brantford, Elmira, Kitchener, Cambridge — not just Waterloo,” Tutt said.

Even though the cinemas are a powerful part of Waterloo’s artistic community, Tutt doesn’t think the cinemas will change much in the future.

“The original’s got this funky charm that’s never really changed that much. People kind of like that.”

“You go to a movie theatre and you don’t want it to change that much because movie theatres have been around for a long time. It’s an old way of doing something.”

Old or not, watching films like those the Princess screens is a unique opportunity that panders a wide variety of audiences.

Tutt said university students of in the Waterloo area should explore the culture the Princess Cinemas have to offer and soak up its unique cultural experience.

“Think of the first years that come to school in the community that aren’t from here … their life is really focused on that campus,” he said. “Part of the charm of coming to university is expanding your vision of things. And whether it’s people you meet, courses you take … coming to a community that’s got a cinema like this, or an operation like this, how cool is that?”

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