“It’s not a life saver, but it is a brain saver”: in praise of parent & baby cinema screenings

It’s oh so quiet: the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley. Image: Basil Jradeh/Wikimedia Commons.

A problem faced by new parents, particularly stay-at-home primary carers, is that it’s not merely possible, but actually highly likely, that you’ll go for up to a week at a time without leaving the house. This is particularly true in the winter months, and especially so if you have a partner who can pick up shopping on their way home from work, or use a grocery delivery service, or both.


A reasonably recent innovation to combat this is parent and baby cinema screenings. These tend to be in the late morning of a week day, often before the cinema in question would ordinarily open, and are specifically flagged as “Baby Club” or similar in listings. The speakers are quieter, and house lights brighter, than at a normal screening, and  parents tend to be permitted to bring their prams and pushchairs into the auditorium, or allow their child to sit next to them, depending on their own preferences.

These aren’t screenings of children’s films, but of something that happens to be on general release anyway. This is great, because another problem faced by stay at home parents is the complete collapse of any time available to consume any art or media aimed at adults.


Such screenings are more common in large cities than elsewhere in the country, at least partially because travelling with a baby is not easy. It’s inadvisable, and in plenty of circumstances actually illegal, for a lone adult to drive a car where the only passenger is a newborn. That means such screenings are more likely to thrive in places with extensive public transport networks or cinemas you can go to on foot. Yup, it’s another advantage of city livin’.

As such it’s probably unsurprising that of the few online aggregators of such screenings, none of which are pretty or comprehensive, Londonnet’s is probably the best. It also attempts, despite the title, to cover all such screenings across the UK and Ireland in any given week. By doing so it offers anyone not in Edinburgh the opportunity to envy the dazzling depth and diversity of films the city’s Filmhouse cinema includes in its Parent & Baby programme. There are some mornings I’ve been tempted to head to King’s Cross station rather than the King’s Cross Everyman, and I’m only just not serious.

Not long ago there was a small scandal about a cinema that would not let

someone take a baby into a standard screening of a film, and which quoted the film’s certificate as a reason to bar the child entry. Technically, legally, for PG and 12A rated films, a child of any age can attend with the consent of an accompanying adult. Some parent and baby screenings therefore limit their repertoire to films with such certificates and are relatively lax about the upper age limit for “baby” attendees.

Others, such as those at the Everyman chain allow children up to 12 months in any film, whereas from 12 to 24 months children are welcome in parent and baby screenings only for U and PG rated films. Most cinemas will also not allow customers who aren’t accompanied by an infant into parent and baby screenings, which not only guarantees a safe atmosphere, but also that no one is going to complain when, as inevitably happens, children cry or need changing, or the older ones try climbing towards the screen in order to better see what’s going on. (This prohibition isn’t merely theoretical; my brother in law was once turned away from a parent & baby screening for arriving without a child, not having realised what he’d booked for.)

It would be an exaggeration to call parent and baby cinemas a life saver, but it is a kind of brain saver. It’s a kind of virtuous circle. The prospect of seeing a film you’re not otherwise going to see in the cinema, if ever, pushes you out the door on certain days of the week when you might otherwise resign yourself to not. It adds routine to a period of life which, initially, knows little routine, being dictated by someone too young to have any concept of time. And it means a rush of stimuli into your brain that are wholly unrelated to looking after a baby. Even if you receive those stimuli while looking after a baby.

It also gives you a strange sense of your child’s progression. The first few times I took my son to a screening, he mostly slept through them. At six months he would sit in his pram looking towards the screen, and would object if he faced the other way. He understood that the screen was the point of being there, even if as far as he was concerned it was – at least according to my doctor – just some random lights, shapes, colours and sounds coming from other there. At a year old he insisted on sitting in his own chair next to me, before inevitably falling asleep.

It also gives you some good anecdotes about the unsuitable material your child is exposed to before they have any idea what’s going on. Recently I saw Armando Iannucci in a cafe and almost went up to him to tell him that he’d directed the first film my baby son had ever seen. It was The Death of Stalin. Although he didn’t like it as much as he liked The Shape of Water. Or try to walk out of it, like he did with Aquaman.

Incidentally, the most attended parent and baby screening I have ever been to, and there is no close second, was Ridley Scott’s All The Money In World, a film about the traumatic kidnap of a child. Whether that represents a failure of most parents attending it to properly check what they were going to see, or something deeply freudian, is a question probably best left unanswered.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.