Well-known for its annual theatre festival, Stratford, Ontario, is home to a Guinness World Record holder: The Little Prince Cine-Lounge, the world’s smallest movie theatre in operation, a welcome dose of analogue flair in a digital world.
Owner and artist Leigh Cooney never intended to open a movie theatre or become a world record holder. Six years ago he operated the Meet Your Maker gift shop in the same space on Wellington Street and at the same time with a couple of friends launched a local version of the 48 Hour Film Project. The experience inspired him to dream of opening a screening room at the back of his store, and the simple idea evolved.
“I got carried away,” Cooney says, laughing as he remembers the endless ideas that tumbled out of hims as he renovated the small space, going from a room with a screen to wanting tiered seating, red-velvet curtains, and as much quintessential style of the golden age of cinema he could cram in. A long-time fan of Victorian and 1920s art deco styles, Cooney aimed to design an unforgettable experience.
“Our world is moving online. Everything is evolving, and I wanted to create something for the community, to bring them together,“ he explains. The intimate 12-seat theatre is open daily, the plush red seats and red walls creating a cozy environment that encourages putting the mobile on Do Not Disturb.
Guests are welcome to drop in anytime for popcorn samples in the Lobby Lounge and peruse the snack bar and gift items, with a soundtrack of old jazz playing on the vintage radio. The retro vibe is everywhere, from the old-school-styled popcorn machine (a contemporary machine hidden with a vintage exterior) to the custom-built arcade, with ’80s video games Pacman and Super Mario Bros. There’s even a microstage, where Cooney hopes to offer live music from a cellist or a keyboardist.
Complimentary short films are screened during the day, and when the theatre isn’t booked for private parties or events, the screening schedule taps into the theatre’s 60,000-film library. “It’s fun to see the reactions, especially when groups choose films like Mamma Mia, Dirty Dancing, or Elf, sharing the experience of watching something they’ve seen many times before,” Cooney says. And for those who love the previews, he finds movie trailers from the same year to screen before the main attraction. “We never have upset customers. We do one thing and we do it well.”
Word of mouth has made The Little Prince a local obsession, and Cooney is regularly asked if he’s opening another micro movie theatre in a nearby town. After programming the summer 2023 season of free outdoor movies at Cambridge’s Gaslight District, he is now building the world’s second-smallest movie theatre there, with 13 seats. He dreams of one day designing a 30-seat theatre.
Photography by Claire Scott.