KELLI BROWN, owner of Dakota Cinema, poses in front of the cinema's popcorn machine on Thursday. Dakota Cinema, as part of its focus on community engagement, will host a Summer Matinee Series for the third year running, offering free admission for children's movies on Wednesdays.
Dakota Cinema’s Summer Matinee Series is returning for its third year, offering free admission for screenings of certain children’s movies for 11 weeks.
From May 24 through Aug. 2, each Wednesday will feature a free 2 p.m. showing. The films on this year’s schedule include “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” “Captain Underpants,” “Home,” “Over the Hedge,” “Megamind,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” “Chicken Run,” “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie,” “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water” and “Trolls.”
The Summer Matinee Series started in 2020 as a way to bring in traffic when many films were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dakota Cinema owner Kelli Brown. At that time, admission for the matinees was $3.
Then, in 2021, when the Madison Aquatic Center didn’t open for the summer, the City of Madison approached Dakota Cinema to host the matinee series again, this time with city sponsorship. The sponsorship allowed the matinees to admit audience members for free and gave children a fun activity when a major source of recreation was no longer available.
“The turnout was phenomenal,” Brown said. “We had double or even triple the audience [compared to 2020], some days.”
Brown said she wanted to bring back the matinee series in 2022 as another way for children to get out of the house and enjoy a fun, safe activity. She wanted admission to be free, but the cinema still had to pay to show the films, even if they were sold at a discounted rate in packages by the studios. It was a significant hurdle to overcome, she said.
Then, when talking with Gayle Maberry, owner of the Four Seasons Flea Market, Maberry said local businesses like hers would be willing to sponsor the matinee series, Brown said. She sought sponsors and quickly filled up all the necessary slots, and afterward, more interested businesses approached her.
That interest paid off this year. While in 2022 she only needed 12 sponsors, she needed more this year, as film costs “nearly doubled,” she said. This year, more than 15 businesses have signed on to sponsor the Summer Matinee Series.
“I filled all those spots, ‘Boom.’ It was no problem. It’s amazing. Our community is just awesome, especially when it comes to anything for the kids. We’re always going to get together and do what we can to make sure the kids have something fun to do,” Brown said. “Making the admission free, we have a lot of people we don’t necessarily see movies because it’s just not in the budget for them.”
Brown said she tries to keep the community at the center of everything she does. From the remodel in fall 2022 to the movies shown on the cinema’s two screens, she does it all with community feedback in mind. She runs polls on the business’ Facebook page and talks with customers, asking what movies people want to see and what will make the experience best for them, she said.
“We do what we can. Our community needs a theater,” she said. “We want to choose the movies people want to see, invest, expand, add that third screen, hopefully a fourth and fifth [and] improve the parking lot.”
This summer will bring more than the Summer Matinee Series, Brown said. With the COVID-19 pandemic dying down both nationally and globally, it will be her first time seeing a “normal summer,” since the pandemic began in the United States just four months after she purchased Dakota Cinema.
“It’ll be nice to see what a normal summer looks like, and it’s full of great, great movies,” she said.