On Friday July 22 I was stunned and saddened to hear that local entrepreneur Dan Wannemacher died of a heart attack at age 59. Dan was the man behind Kingston Family Funworld—home of Kingston’s beloved 3-screen Drive-in Movie Theatre—and also the Putt N’ Blast mini-golf & laser tag attraction at the Frontenac Mall. The Kingston Whig-Standard has published a fine article about his life. We send our condolences to Dan’s family and friends.
What many people might not know is that Dan was the founder and original owner of The Screening Room, so we’d like to take a moment to describe and celebrate the legacy he has left here. Back in the mid-1990’s, he had the vision, chutzpah and practical know-how to lease a vacant space at 120 Princess street and install a movie theatre. The cinema was originally called Super Flicks & Food; it was a discount movie theatre that played second-run mainstream films for a super-low price ($4 general admission, $2 matinees) & served submarine sandwiches. Dinner and a movie! You can still see the Super Flicks & Food sign on the front of the building, pictured right.
By Dan’s account, the business was not a great success out of the gate (apparently some people mistakenly took it for an ‘adult’ movie theatre due to its second-floor location), but he experimented with different types of movies and had a first major hit with the Italian film Life is Beautiful. This lead to the cinema finding success in taking over the “specialty/art-house” cinema niche left vacant by the Princess Court Theatre when it went out of business. Dan renamed the theatre “The Screening Room”, added a second screen, and ultimately sold the business to manager & friend Terry in the early 2000’s. Through thick and thin, Terry kept the cinema operating smoothly for a decade and sold the business to me in 2011.
As I approach my five-year anniversary of cinema proprietorship (tomorrow on July 29, to be exact) and reflect on the various changes and renovations we’ve made and plan to make, it blows me away to consider just how much hard work and genuine risk goes into starting a movie theatre from scratch. Dan’s handiwork is still visible all over The Screening Room; his vision and labour is the foundation of the cinema that stands here today in 2016.
It takes a rare sort of person to build a movie theatre out of nothing. If Dan had not done it back in the 1990’s, it is very easy for me to imagine an alternate history in which Kingston does not have a downtown movie theatre, let alone an independent art-house theatre. I will forever be grateful for Dan’s can-do spirit.
-Wendy Huot, owner/operator of The Screening Room