The Princess Twin Cinema on King Street in Uptown Waterloo. (File photo by Megan Cherniak).

Crown jewel

The Princess Twin Cinema on King Street in Uptown Waterloo. (File photo by Megan Cherniak).

Princess Cinemas harkens back to the old days of going to the pictures

Carly Basch

Going to the movies has always offered a therapeutic and thrilling excitement that cannot be replicated at home.

Independent cinemas have had a reputation for bringing in a more artistic and culturally renowned experience to discerning audiences. However, when it comes to programming and bringing the numbers in, do independent theaters have what it takes to be successful in the age of the megaplex?

Princess Cinemas, Waterloo’s only non-chain theater, gives people that old-time thrill of going to the theaters. Located in two spots, the Original Princess at 6 Princess Street West and The Princess Twin,

46 King Street North, the pair of cinemas represent the intimate feeling of what going to the movies should be about: small venue, smaller space yet quality films.

However, the Princess has tough competition. With rising technologies and venues catered to bring in audience members that focus on high sales and out-of-the-box technology, large movie theatres nation wide are running small independent theatres out of business. Spectacles arise now with films that showcase 3D, or cinemas that offer current and familiar film titles that top the box office and star actors that audience members are accustomed to.

But with 20 years of business under its belt, The Princess has no plans of shutting down. Run and owned by John

Tutt, The Princess has specifically paid attention to what audiences need to see and what they should see. It seems Waterloo Region audiences like what’s playing. Within the Kitchener Waterloo community there are over 6,000 members eager and willing to check out what’s playing at the theater that boasts a diverse screening calendar.

However, Tutt had other goals in mind when he first opened the theatre in 1985. “When we opened, we showed cult classics over the first couple of years. It wasn’t until three years later into the late 80s that we became a first-run cinema.”

Cult classic showings like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which still runs to this day, was what initially attracted audiences. However as the years passed and audiences taste changed; so did the Princess.

In 2005, Tutt expanded just slightly, across the street, opening two new screens at The Princess Twin.

So how does a small theater like The Princess consistently attract audiences?

“The program is always changing,” Tutt says. “That’s the appeal, is the mixture of what’s onscreen. There’s always something for everyone at any given time.”

Over recent years, The Princess has made sure their programs offer a variety of movies. They hope to continue pursuing their mandate of showcasing world-renowned films as well as growing their film festival and live show program. The Princess has been consistent in getting Kitchener-Waterloo audiences to invest their time and appreciation in foreign and independently made films. “[The Princess] plays films that main chain cinemas do not, showing films from all over the world, films that win awards at festivals. The Princess also plays the highest percentage of Canadian films in the whole region,” says Tutt.

Tutt makes the pilgrimage to the Toronto International Film Festival each year to bone up on movies he’ll show at the Princess for the months to come. “I’ve been going for about 25 years. You watch 30 to 50 films over ten days and you just immerse yourself in a whole bunch of movies…that’s a good programming help and you just know what’s coming”.

It’s not just about variety. Tutt ensures that the films he chooses are adding up to the sales at the box office. “The Original Princess spans over two months so every three weeks I’m pouring over every title, but for the Twin, I sit down every Monday and evaluate the numbers of how well each film did and how much longer they should be in theaters for, just like a chain cinema.”

It’s not all rosy, however. Tutt has noticed a recent downturn in student attendance. “Movie going habits have become a bit more conservative,” Tutt notes, “Going to the Princess entails a little bit of a challenge and risk, so you might go see a film that’s Canadian or German or French film or maybe an American independent film that has no stars in it. It has great reviews
and playing all over the world but has no familiar actors playing in it. Not many students are as willing to take that type of risk and go see a film that they are not that familiar with”.

Ashley Hannah, a fourth-year sociology student at Wilfrid Laurier University, echoes Tutt’s sentiments. “I was hesitant to go at first because no one I knew seemed interested or excited about checking out independent films.” After finally managing to get the courage to attend a screening of The Perks of being a Wallflower, her view changed. “I like the smaller venue. It’s more intimate and not as loud or noisy [as] in bigger theaters like The Galaxy. The Princess has more sophistication.”

Despite this slight hiccup, The Princess’s involvement within the Kitchener-Waterloo community proves how entrenched they are here. “We do a lot of outreach with community groups and benefits,” Tutt says when asked about how the Princess connects with Waterloo’s community.

“We host free movies in the park in the summer and we get about 1,200 people at these screenings.” This past September, The Princess hosted a fundraiser for the

KW Counselling Services and helped raise money with a secret screening of Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell.

In December, the original Princess will be switching to digital in hopes of screening high resolution films. Many theatres that have held on to 35 mm projectors have had increasing difficulty obtaining reels as many film distribution companies make the switch to digital. For the Princess, a digital projector simply makes sense if they still want to provide the variety they’re renowned for.

While the act of going to independent theaters may seem outdated, The Princess Cinemas have proven that there is still a desire to see interesting and unique movies. When you go to the Princess, you’re not just paying to see a film; you’re paying to have a cultural experience.

Tutt has no plans to stop pushing forward. “We just want to keep pursuing what we have been doing and continue growing as a business. We have no plans of going anywhere and look forward to celebrating 30 years of being within the community.”

For The Princess’s monthly schedule, visit