Ottawa Family Cinema celebrates a special milestone

By Jacob Hoytema – 

While Hollywood prepares for the Oscars later this month, local film-goers are getting ready for their own movie celebration as the Ottawa Family Cinema (OFC) celebrates its fortieth anniversary.

The not-for-profit cinema, which has been showing movies weekly since 1977, will be having a “movie party” this spring to celebrate, with special showings, treats, and entertainment for viewers.

The OFC was the brainchild of Dorothy Stoiber and Jim McNeill. Back then, Dorothy ran a club for seniors at the Alexander Community Centre and would ask Jim to come and show old musicals, since he owned a projector. Even though the showings were intended for the older generation, they noticed that kids would often peek in to watch as well.

Knowing that the kids may be coming from underprivileged homes, Jim and Dorothy decided that a family-oriented cinema might be good for the community.

“Kids only get into trouble when there’s nothing to do,” says Dorothy, later recalling her astonishment at seeing how captivated and quiet their young viewers stayed while enjoying those first showings.

Jim says he knows personally, from his youth in Ireland, the importance that movies can play in childhood. “Belfast, was at that time, not a great city to live in, so I just skipped to the movies and had a great time there,” Jim explains. “I love seeing people being entertained by movies just the way I was when I was a kid, I think I wanted to bring that experience back to everybody.”

Volunteers run the cinema in the Notre Dame High School auditorium every Saturday, and every other Friday, from September to May.

[Click photos to enlarge.]

“I always said there’s never going to be anybody paid for this… I think it changes the dynamics when you’re actually putting the show on to get money,” Jim says. Profits are donated back to the community through various charities, and tickets are given each week to children from underprivileged families.

Some of the volunteers who set up the concession stand, usher in viewers, or run the projector are kids and teenagers. But both Jim and Dorothy, as well as the many organizers who gather together every week, are proud that several of the adult volunteers got their start working with the OFC as youngsters and have stuck around even after they stopped needing high school service hours.

To celebrate its birthday every spring, the OFC hosts “movie parties” — special showings that normally feature cake for the audience members, gifts for kids, and sometimes special performances from local entertainers. As preparations are still underway, there isn’t yet a set date for the fortieth anniversary party, but organizers say it will likely be in early spring.

More info about OFC’s fortieth anniversary celebrations can be found at familycinema.ca

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