Author and film buff Christopher Heard reflects on his lifelong love of cinema and how it has shaped his daughter’s appreciation for classic films.

My earliest movie memory is watching Creature from the Black Lagoon with my dad. I was probably no more than four years old. I remember him pointing out the scenes where, when the creature was standing over his terrified female captive just so, you could clearly see the zipper running down the inside of its costume arm. This was fun, playtime, I realized—grown-ups dressing up and acting for our amusement. I loved it, like my father.

Many years later, I’m sitting in a suite at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto, with my own daughter, Isabelle, then aged seven. We are working on our first book together (called Isabelle, The Butterfly) when all of a sudden what should come on the TV but Creature from the Black Lagoon. This was to be a great moment, I thought. Now a father myself (as well as a cinephile and historian), I could relive the most important moment in my cinema-loving history. A real full-circle-type situation. As we watched the movie, I stole glances at Isabelle to see if certain moments had the same effects on her as they had on my younger self. They didn’t.

“Is this supposed to be scary?” she asked. “That creature looks like Dora the Explorer.”

Cinema affects us all differently, a lesson I’d learned (and taught) before, and one I’d learn again. It means different things to different people at different times, a fact that’s abundantly evident in younger viewers.

Because of what I do and what I love about cinema, my daughter was always surrounded by films. I was eager to show her works that I loved, hoping she would also love them for the same reasons, or at least for the same reasons in addition to her own. But, from time to time, individuality gets in the way of such parenting goals.

When I tried to get her to love The Wizard of Oz, she seemed to prefer the physical storybook version better. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was the same. “It was a bit too long,” Isabelle said after we’d watched it together in 3D at the theatre. “It really didn’t need to be because he (Burton) added some things that weren’t in the book, and the book was already good enough.” I suggested that she might be projecting her love of the book onto the movie, which was unfair as both are different expressions of the idea. “The characters on screen didn’t really look the way I had imagined them,” she added. “But the rooms and houses and scenery (sets) were even better than I imagined. So, I guess I loved the book… but only really liked the movie.”

When I happened to put on the Elvis film Viva Las Vegas, on the other hand, she was absolutely riveted. She demanded we replay it in its entirety once it ended. I grew to love this individuality of taste in her. She was being shaped by the films she liked, as I had been—just not the same films.

During a recent Black History Month, my daughter became interested in Malcolm X and what made him angry when Martin Luther King remained passive. I suggested we watch Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X together, explaining that we would view it not as a historical document, nor as absolute truth or fact—one should never, ever look to movies as such—but so that we could feel the passion that old Spike had for this subject, this man, who had also captured her interest.

Be inspired by these artists’ interpretation, I told her. Be wowed by Denzel Washington’s expert portrayal. Let the film be a living, breathing thing that moves you to seek out more information, to do your own thinking. Decide for yourself where this film fits into the big picture and the real world.

What has fascinated me about cinema since I was a child is that it’s a shared experience, with many people witnessing the same thing at the same time in the same place, yet each film speaks to everyone in a distinctly personal way.

A few Halloweens back I asked my daughter what she was thinking about going out trick-or-treating as. Her response: “What do you know about the movie Grease?” With mock incredulity I answered, “Well, a lot. What do you know about the movie Grease?” Realizing then that I might actually have a fair bit of knowledge about one of her favourite movies, she said, “I want to go out as Sandy, but not the Sandy from most of the movie, the Sandy at the end, when she’s transformed herself into sassy Sandy.”

I smiled. I knew exactly what she meant. The magic of cinema that captivated me as a child has also touched my daughter, and most wonderfully it has done so in her very own way.

“Is this supposed to be scary?” she asked. “That creature looks like Dora the Explorer.”