LA-LA land north

LA-LA land north
$1M cinema at Sick Kids hospital ‘a great idea for kids and families’

Hooray for Hollywood — at Sick Kids hospital.

Children, parents, visitors and dignitaries who raised $1 million for a cinema in the downtown hospital got the red carpet treatment at Friday’s grand opening.

A bevy of camera-waving actors decked out in trenchcoats and wide-brim fedoras festooned with “Press” stickers formed a gauntlet outside the University Ave. entrance, calling to everyone as if they were stars on Oscar night in LA-LA land.

“I think it’s really great idea for kids and families,” Scarborough mom Natalie Wong said, as she escorted daughter Caitlin, 4, to see Shrek the Third.

Wong said Caitlin, who is almost finished treatment for leukemia, “spent so much time in the hospital, not being able to see a movie with her family.”

Her little girl is “almost done” treatment after spending most of the last 2 1/2 years at Sick Kids, but her mom said the theatre gives others, their siblings and parents a chance to escape together with a film within a safer environment than a public theatre.

“There’s always a risk for infection, so there’s better protection,” she said.

Hugging her dolly Scotty tight, Caitlin was eager to get a seat, grinning shyly as she proclaimed Shrek The Third the highlight of her morning.

Her other favourites are “dinosaur movies,” especially if there is a toothy T-Rex,” she burbled.

The blue-toned, state-of-the-art Hollywood Theatre at SickKids, with big yellow stars on the entrance hall floor and wall posters of past children’s hits including The Wizard of Oz, E.T., and the first Shrek, was the brainchild of Montreal-born film-maker and advertising executive Barry Avrich.

Avrich, 44, director of recent movies The Last Mogul: The Life & Times of Lew Wasserman, The Madness of King Richard and Guilty Pleasure: The Extraordinary World of Dominick Dunne, saw a patient watching a movie on a small video player.

He began raising funds and recruited help from the film industry to develop the 232-seat theatre.

“From the day you first enter a movie theatre and for the rest of your life, the emotional impact and ability to escape is an experience exclusive to film,” he said before the premiere.”

In addition to new releases and family movies from a library of films being screened weekly, they will be streamed throughout the hospital so that children in isolation or unable to get to the theatre can watch in their rooms via close-circuit TVs.

When not showing movies, it will be used to staff for “telemedicine,” allowing them to diagnose children’s ailments from around the world, Michael O’Mahoney, president of the SickKids Foundation, told the audience.

As a “place of last resort,” he said many children spend months, even years at the hospital.

“Many of them don’t even realize the power of a movie … a place to escape, where it’s safe and offers the power of imagination.”

Kitchener mom Joanne Klein, whose son Baden was one of two children who joined dignitaries in cutting a strip of film instead of a red ribbon, said “I’m so happy kids have a place to escape the ouchies.”

Born with “Bubble Boy Syndrome,” Baden, 4, underwent bone marrow transplant treatment and “everything’s good … we just come for checkups,” his mom said.

Happily munching before the lights dimmed, film-cutter Colena Johnson, 7, of Caledon, said she was enjoying the “awesome popcorn” popped in a trolley.

After three heart surgeries, the Caledon youngster now only needs checkups, her mom, Jean, said, calling the theatre “an amazing gift.”

Master-of-ceremonies Wesley Payne, 15, who will need transfusions twice a year for the rest of his life to reduce swelling caused by a virus that swells one arm, did impressions of stars in a film short. Kids, doctors and staff also confided their favourite movies and lauded the theatre.

“I’d love to be an actor,” Wesley, a Grade 9 student at Mayfield Secondary School in Brampton — who has been in four plays including the current West Side Story — said later.

“As someone who spent 15 years in this hospital, I’m amazed at what they’ve done,” he said. “There are many days I’d like to have been able to escape to this theatre … it’s just what the doctor ordered.”

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