For 35 years Princess Cinemas has been like a second home to movie lovers in the region. And like many homes, its basement is filled with memories.
The lower level of the larger Princess Twin theatre normally houses a gallery space, but tucked inconspicuously into one corner is a printed program from the original Princess’ opening week in September 1985. Beside that is a door leading to a “vault” containing three decades worth of movie posters collected since the theatre expanded from second-run to new release screenings in the late ‘80s.
In anticipation of a massive fundraising auction, John Tutt owner of Princess Cinemas, and his staff have begun clearing out the vault and organizing stacks upon stacks of their posters from a mind-boggling range of releases — everything from low-budget Canadian indies to iconic Hollywood blockbusters — to prep them for public bidding.
“I realized from day one … the print run of a poster [for a theatrical film release] in North America is maybe 30,000 [copies]. Cut back one-third of those for damage, maybe even more,” Tutt said, when asked whether his initial archiving of posters was done with forethought. Considering the passage of time, one can only imagine how many surviving copies remain of the most obscure posters in Tutt’s collection. The process of determining their historical value, he told us, is still ongoing.
As one would expect, clearing out the poster vault has stirred up many of Tutt’s own memories, often tied to screenings in which filmmakers and actors were in attendance. Tutt very fondly recalled hosting a screening of Canadian documentarian Bill Mason’s nature film Waterwalker, and spoke warmly of actor Greg Sestero’s recurring visits to the Princess Cinemas to join fans of his cult classic The Room.
The first lot of posters up for bidding will be themed around music, including biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and documentaries like Neil Young’s Year of the Horse. Eager cinephiles can visit the poster auction website on Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m. for initial bidding — future lots may be themed around Studio Ghibli releases, horror classics, comic book flicks and more.
Poster inventory is not exclusive to films actually shown at the Princess Cinemas. “We receive about 500 posters a year,” Tutt said, referring to an ordering process that anticipates potential screenings. So whether your fondest movie memory of, say, 2003 was Whale Rider or The Matrix sequels, the auction will have something for you.
Funds will go toward keeping Princess Cinemas afloat during the ongoing pandemic, which has forced the theatre to hold off on public screenings again for the time being.
“At some point, we were going to liquidate our poster [supply] because there were just so many,” said Tutt. He was inspired after recently contributing to a fundraiser at Waterloo Riverview Dharma Centre. “They sold two of our posters, and I thought ‘wow, that worked really well’.”
The auction will be one of several upcoming opportunities for the public to help out: “After this, we’ll be launching a seat sale — people can get a plaque on seats, which will also involve the future installation of new seats [in the theatre],” Tutt said. Another great way for movie fans to commemorate 35 years of operation for one of the region’s favourite arthouse venues.