Charlie Swinbourne: How to persuade your local cinema to offer regular subtitled screenings

Posted on February 26, 2016

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Deaf people love going to the cinema just as much as anyone else does, but as I wrote in this Guardian article back in 2011, we’re not well served by cinemas.

Often, the limited number of subtitled film screenings are badly advertised, arranged at inconvenient times (such as in the middle of a working day, or early morning at the weekends).

And when deaf people do find a screening and go along, the subtitles don’t always work.

That might not sound like a big deal, but when a deaf person’s travelled to the only cinema showing a certain film with subtitles, only to receive apologies and free cinema ticket vouchers, to then have to travel home (unable to see another film because they’re not subtitled), well, that’s quite a depressing experience.

The Your Local Cinema website lists film screenings around the country, but looking through what’s on is also a reminder of how small our choice is, compared to the general non-deaf population.

I love cinema. It made me get into being a filmmaker, and I also love going with other deaf people, enjoying the shared experience.

So for a few years now I’ve been setting up local cinema groups to try and encourage cinemas to arrange more regular subtitled screenings.

I’ve had some success with this – next week, my local cinema in Ilkley is putting on its first subtitled screening, for the Michael Caine film Youth (here’s an article in the local paper about it).

I also made contact with the Everyman Cinema in Leeds and last year, set up the West Yorkshire Subtitled Cinema Group, who also go to films there once a month (although we had a bit of a gap in screenings lately due to staff changes).

The first group I set up was in London in 2010, where I arranged with the Curzon Cinema group to organise subtitled films at their Soho cinema (although I’ve left London, the Subtitled Cinema Group London is still going, now run by Deaf filmmaker Ted Evans – join their Facebook group here).

What I want to share in this post is how I went about contacting cinemas and setting these groups up, along with some thoughts on how others might set up similar groups around the country.

Here goes.

What I’ve learned over the years is that often, subtitled film screenings are poorly attended. This isn’t deaf people’s fault – with poor advertising and inconvenient times, it’s little surprise that the audiences are small.

The problem is that due to this, the cinemas often presume there’s little demand for subtitled screenings.

So the way I always approach trying to set up a group is to say to cinemas that by setting up a group, we can get a lot more deaf people to come along to a subtitled screening.

I guess I’m saying to the cinemas, if you help us, we can help you, too.

What’s worked for me is approaching smaller cinemas, rather than the bigger chains (who never replied to me at all).

When I didn’t get a reply to an email, I would go to the cinemas in person to ask for the manager and if they were there, explain what I wanted to do. Meeting people face-to-face seems to make them a lot more likely to keep in contact with you (and reply to emails!).

The most important thing I tell them is that the group screenings should be in the evening, after 6pm, so that people who work can get there in time.

I also ask for some special offers, such as cheaper tickets, food or drinks, to increase goodwill among the group. (and we all know that deaf people love a discount!)

Once a subtitled screening is organised, it’s time to tell people about it.

Facebook’s a good way of making the group known to people in your local area, and once people have ‘liked’ your page, it’s really easy to inform people about upcoming screenings by posting an ‘event.’

Once the screening has been set up, it’s important that you go along, say hi to people and be the face of the group!

All that’s left after that is to settle down with your popcorn and enjoy the film!

If anyone out there is thinking of setting up their own subtitled cinema group, please get in touch and I’ll help as much as I can.

Just email: thelimpingchicken@gmail.com to get in touch. Good luck!

Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being an award-winning filmmaker. He directed the comedies The Kiss and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, and the documentary Found, about three people’s discovery of the deaf world. As a journalist, he has written for the Guardian and BBC Online.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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