Coming to a Theater Near You: ‘Reel’ Moms, in All Senses of the Word


Cara Levinson can admit that maybe it would have been easier to be a new mother during the warm-weather months. Though this winter hasn't seen temperatures as low as those in seasons past, the Center City resident still says there are a limited number of places to go with a newborn and a stroller when it's nippy outside.

"You can only do so much shopping," said the mother of 8-week-old Halle. "It would be nice to have a destination."

Like most stay-at-home moms, Levinson would relish any excuse to escape her home – and maybe even lose herself in a bucket of popcorn and a good action flick.

With this audience in mind, Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation has rolled out "Reel Moms" in some two-dozen U.S. cities in the past few years, although not here in Philadelphia. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, parents – with babies in tow – now have the opportunity to enjoy a new Hollywood release without nasty stares from other patrons when a wail, fidget or burst of laughter interrupts a heart-racing police chase.

And now, for those with Jewish interests, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Philadelphia's Gershman Y branch on Broad Street is initiating a movie morning of its own, called "Movies for New Moms."

Some Adult Fare

The first Monday of each month, beginning on Feb. 6, new parents are invited with their children to the Gershman to see shows featured as part of the annual Jewish Film Festival. The first one will be the 2003 film "Wondrous Oblivion," a story set in a working-class area of London in the 1960s not known to be welcoming to blacks or Jews.

Rachel Zagursky, director of the cultural-arts programs at the Gershman, said organizers were initially hesitant to show films from the festival because some have subtitles – which could be difficult to read while attending an infant – but the response has been overwhelming.

"I've gone to 'Reel Moms' in Cherry Hill, but those are first-run theaters, and I don't usually see those kind of movies," said Levinson, who prior to parenthood saw movies once a week -even twice a week – generally artsier films run at smaller venues. "It'll be nice to have the chance to see something artsy that, with a baby, I wouldn't normally have the chance to see."

Levinson is not alone in seeking some adult entertainment when most child-oriented fare involves animation.

The matinees will also provide a dose of socialization for mothers looking for company in a baby-friendly environment. At Loews, for example, lights are merely dimmed (so that babies can be monitored), bathrooms are equipped with changing tables, nursing is welcomed, and the surround-sound is adjusted so that it's not too loud to startle little ears. Loews charges regular prices for the parents; infants are free.

The Gershman will also serve coffee and pastries for parents.

Marci Shapiro, mother of 31/2-year-old Brooke and 11-week-old Noa, would love the chance to go to the movies, though she said she really wouldn't be all that interested in Jewish films. Plus, for her, Center City is just too far away. Indeed, this West Chester parent admits to not having been in a theater – except to see a "Winnie the Pooh" movie last year – since before the birth of her older daughter.

Though Loews does not operate theaters in the Philadelphia area – save for one in nearby Cherry Hill, N.J. – hope remains for Shapiro.

Last June, Loews and AMC Theatres – a company with a handful of facilities in the area – announced plans to merge.

While details are still being finalized, Cedric Beasley, assistant marketing and promotions manager for Loews, said that he anticipated the program would be expanded into some of the local AMC venues.

Contemplating Ideas

On that same note, Regal Entertainment Group – comprising Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theater, with 26 properties in the area – is currently piloting "Regal Babyflix," a similar idea, in Salisbury, Md., but is unsure when the program will be finalized.

According to a report released in November 2004 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States had an estimated 5.5 million defined "stay-at-home" parents in 2003 – 5.4 million mothers and 98,000 fathers.

"We're always looking for things to do," said Shapiro of her two girls. "The busier we are, the happier I am."



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