I can’t be certain that I liked Isle of Dogs, from a critical viewpoint. I reviewed the film on this site a week or so ago and I’m confident that review represents my feelings about the film as I saw it. What’s crucial, though, is the way in which I saw it. I popped along to the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton for a Sunday morning screening that was as full of dogs as it was of humans. The Ritzy is one of many cinemas that ran canine-friendly showings of the movie and the suggestion is that they did very well indeed. So, with the multiplex threatened by the combined forces of piracy, Netflix and its own penchant for over-priced popcorn, could letting the dogs out be the future?
At the screening, I was at, there was certainly a party atmosphere. The various dog owners who arrived spent plenty of time cooing over the other pets that had been brought along, and it was difficult to take a step without lumbering over a labrador or tripping on a terrier. If movies are supposed to bring together people based on a shared interest, this screening certainly succeeded in that respect.
I must confess that, when the title card popped up and the latest slice of Wes Anderson weirdness began to play, I was fully prepared not to be able to enjoy a moment of the story. Dogs are not famed for their sense of cinema etiquette and I was expecting the viewing to be a bark-fest, with critters roaming freely around the room – or as far as their leads would allow them to go – for the entire running time of the story. I needn’t have worried. The audience, whether two-legged or four-legged, was far better behaved than the average crowd you’d expect for a horror movie on a Friday night.
Zoltan Zubornyak, duty manager at the cinema, told me after the screening that they had sold out the room, had great feedback and would be likely to hold a similar event in the future.
He said: “This was the only colour that was missing from the palette. We have ‘Toddler Time’ for toddlers and ‘Big Scream’ for mothers and babies, as well as ‘Silver Screening’ for pensioners, ‘Discover Tuesdays’ and ‘Slackers Club’ for students. As a dog owner I noticed that sometimes we don’t go out because we don’t want to leave the puppy alone and it’s also very good for dogs to socialise and meet each other as well.”
Geoff and Linda Le Pard are regular cinema visitors, but took the opportunity to bring their dog along to the special event.
Geoff said: “It’s lovely to be out with your dog. For something like this, it’s nice to do something different and meet other dog owners. Everybody’s smiling at each other and it’s a nice happy place. Dogs are social creatures, so they like being out and about, and it’s good for them to be around other dogs. From the cinema point of view, anything that brings in another group of people is a good thing.”
This was a very pleasant environment in which to watch Isle of Dogs, which was a film made even more entertaining by the occasional interjections of a well-placed bark or a howl, as if the creatures in the audience were passing comment on what they were watching.
It was almost certainly more entertaining than it would be if I had been sitting in a darkened room and lobbing spoons at the screen while watching The Room. At least Isle of Dogs is a competent and enjoyable movie.
Emboldened by the excitement of the morning, Zoltan said the success of this first screening made it very likely that the Ritzy would take the opportunity to put on a similar event.
He said: “This was the first one and we were very passionate about it. Central Picturehouse had some experience and a lot of support. Their feedback was very good and they were very satisfied. Our feedback was very good, so we will take that to our head office and programmers so they can check the figures, but I hope to do this at least once a month or something like that.”
As to whether this particular brand of screening will catch on outside of the gimmick potential of a movie that’s directly about our four-legged friends, I’m not sure. It will take time to establish whether there’s actually a market for movie showings that feature roaming animals, as many may not enjoy a trip to the cinema with the added stress of having to worry about keeping their dog happy. However, as the latest stab at finding a way to make the cinema experience more palatable and viable in a world where so many movies are available at the click of a button, it’s an admirable attempt to do something different and fun.
Whatever the potential for wider market appeal, I certainly found myself relaxed and entertained as much by the very affectionate cockapoo sat to my left as I was by Isle of Dogs. He wasn’t mine, but the owner said it was okay… I promise.
I would like to thank Ritzy Picturehouse for inviting me to the screening and allowing me to take photos of all of the lovely dogs!