Above: Sonic Cinema session at the Village Community Cinema
Entering the Sonic Cinema experience feels as though you’re receiving a long overdue hug from an old friend – warm, welcoming, and wonderful.
Original artwork cascades both walls of the cosy Village Community Cinema aisles, drawing your eyes to the screen. Alongside the usual rows of seating in the cinema is a widened step and ramp, suitable for wheelchair users, located front and centre of the theatre. Muted lighting and vintage elements add to the true old-school cinematic experience.
Sonic Cinema is working to ensure that people with neurological, intellectual, physical, and sensory challenges have a safe and inviting space to enjoy the cinema.
Based at the boutique Village Community Cinema located at The Historic Village, Sonic Cinema provides an intimate, cosy, and welcoming space for people to experience the joy of going to the movies, where consideration is taken to accommodate their particular sensory or physical needs.
Founder and CEO of Sonic Cinema, Melanie Valli Mills, says it provides a growing need in our community for more accessible recreational events and offers the joy of going to the movies regardless of patron’s particular challenges or limitations.
“Sonic Cinema is about providing a need in our community for more accessibility and provides people within the disability community the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure of going to the movies at their own private cinema event.”
Melanie explains that every patron’s needs are different in relation to their physical, neurological, or sensory needs, and that is where Sonic Cinema is unique. Each session is a labour of love which Melanie tenderly cares for, striving to ensure every patron’s needs are met before they arrive for their viewing.
She will communicate with each patron or their parent/caregiver to ensure that when they arrive at Sonic Cinema, they feel welcome and certainly not judged for any particular challenges or limitations they may experience.
“When I first thought of Sonic Cinema, I spent many months researching and getting amazing people on board. Therapists, Teachers, Parents, Council Representatives, and potential clients, and dived in to see what needs were really missing and how to accommodate them,” says Melanie. “From the perspective of an Events Manager, I was becoming acutely aware that the accessibility and sensory needs of our disabled community were being overlooked”
It was apparent that this community was unintentionally excluded from enjoying the cinematic experience, and Melanie had space to advocate for people within the disability sector.
Since its creation in 2018, Sonic Cinema has hosted over 80 uniquely catered cinematic experiences for over 2,400 attendees. Regular groups return each month, and they all really look forward to offering up their preferred movie choice for Melanie to source for their viewing.
Melanie says, “We have many groups that enjoy coming to Sonic Cinema regularly, and it’s so great to see them more confident in themselves in a familiar space and excited to be at the movies, enjoying their free popcorn and refreshments whilst enjoying their chosen film.”
Maintaining the longevity of these events and ensuring they continue is one of the key challenges Melanie faces with Sonic Cinema.
“As we aim to keep Sonic Cinema as a unique sensory experience, it is a private in-house event groups can book. We check with the clientele before they arrive about exactly what needs they require to feel comfortable,” Melanie explains. “We also request their preferred movie choices. Otherwise, it is booking the venue, being aware of the numbers attending, organising the free popcorn and refreshments, and ensuring the event is intimate, welcoming and tailored to our clientele’s specific needs.”
Sonic Cinema relies on sponsorship and grants from funders to continue its work providing a joyful cinema experience for the disability community. The charitable trust recently received $4,468.00 in funding from TECT towards its operating costs.
TECT trustee Kate Barry-Piceno says Sonic Cinema addresses the issue that society unintentionally lacks awareness around people with disabilities being excluded from many settings and environments – the cinemas being one.
“Melanie has developed a safe, beautiful space with Sonic Cinema that simply facilitates events that celebrate the joy of cinema and celebrates the diversity of people in our community by welcoming them and creating normal moments for them.“