Some of you may recall a strong Facebook group campaign called “Deaf people are alive 7 days a week, not just Sunday/Monday/Tuesday” which I set up a number of years ago in retaliation to not having wider equal access to the cinema.
Although that campaign has died down after 1,140 “likes” and has not really achieved a significant change, it still receives new members on a slow basis.
The Cinema Exhibitors Association (CEA) acknowledged the campaign but did very little (for want of a better word) to enforce or push for any changes.
What’s worse, some deaf people started saying they really appreciated being able to see films on Tuesdays and Thursdays!! I gradually gave up on this social media campaign.
I have been lucky to live near Greenwich where there are three cinemas and the quantity of subtitled films is known to be more than several other areas of the UK.
Yet there have been times where I have had to correspond with new staff at these cinemas, e.g. asking why a 4pm screening on a Tuesday is acceptable given that many deaf people are in full-time employment.
These frustrating email exchanges have often resulted in my becoming stressed, fed-up and disillusioned with naïve hearing staff.
Especially when provision of captions in cinemas is really SIMPLE.
Ideally and technically it is possible for deaf people to just ask the box office to turn it on! The worst excuse for unideal daytime screening on a Tuesday I have come across was “….but we must think of deaf unemployed people”!!! As if they can’t go to a peak-time screening?(!)
Recently I felt excited in seeing posters in the London Underground advertising the film “Sing Street” with much 80’s appeal and songs from Duran Duran and The Cure!
Watching movies with a musical element to them has always been an appeal for me – my friends will vouch for that! (That Billy Elliot DVD is not burnt just yet)!
Here’s the story:
First and foremost I checked www.yourlocalcinema.com to find out whether this film had captions.
It was amazingly simple, I was able to use their chat function to ask the question and get an instant reply.
They confirmed that it was and gave me the link. I was dismayed to realise only 3 or cinemas would do this and these were in various cities outside of London.
May 19th: I directly contacted Greenwich Odeon – my usual cinema.
“I would like to enquire when will Sing Street be captioned at Greenwich Odeon?
I got the typical expected response – probably pre-typed:
Thank you for your email.
Captioned performances of films are dependent on them being supplied with captions by the distributor. Unfortunately we do not have a captioned copy of that film at ODEON Greenwich and it is unlikely we would get one this long after release. I am sorry we were unable to meet your requirements on this occasion.
Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.
I then followed up with Tweets, some of which are copied and pasted below:
@SingStreetMovie please can u tell us why no captions provided according to @ODEONCinemas ?? Deaf people are here
Reply from Odeon:
@TyronWoolfe @SingStreetMovie We do have both audio description and subtitled performances which cinema are you hoping to visit? – Luisa
@ODEONCinemas @SingStreetMovie i have an email from Odeon saying no captions for sing street!!!!!! Greenwich Odeon is where i want
@TyronWoolfe I can’t see that that film is showing in ODEON Greenwich, Tyron… Seems to be on a limited release! ):
23/5/16 – I emailed Greenwich Odeon a complaint:
“I am very disappointed that you have sent me this email response which is contradictory to the good practice of Odeon at Greenwich…..
I would like this to be raised as a formal complaint with Odeon.
I would like a formal reply with actions and explanations further.
My formal complaint is that Sing Street was available with captions. You have not given me any proper reason as to why this popular film is not being captioned at Greenwich Odeon. I should not have to go running around chasing captioning – I am a deaf person who frequents your cinema. Why was this film not considered and access given???
I will wait to hear from you.”
One would expect a same-day response? Two days later I tweeted to push them:
25/5/16 @ODEONCinemas can you tell me why I am still waiting to hear from you? What kind of customer service are you providing?
25/5/16 8 hours later a reply:
@TyronWoolfe This is still being looked into, for you! Please hang on! (:
The reply didn’t arrive until 27th May…
@TyronWoolfe Hello, sorry for the delay while we were investigating this., Greenwich never actually had the film on general release I’m…. if they did we maybe could have showed a captioned version. If they did, we maybe could have showed a captioned version. The film had a very limited release.
@ODEONCinemas why? Why a very limited release? And why did it take so long to come back to me?
@TyronWoolfe We were investigating this with different departments, Tyron. When a film only has a limited release we only receive a certain amount of copies, which means we cannot show the film at many of our cinemas I’m afraid.
How difficult can it be?!
I also turned to Greenwich Picturehouse. Firstly their website makes it clear to email them email@example.com or to ring this number: 0871 902 5732 which takes you to an endless automated machine.
My email was not responded to for a few days.
I decided to phone (via Next Generation Text Relay) – and met the useless automated machine and hung up after 10mins of cinema films and times – I wanted to communicate with a real person!
I went back to the internet and hunted around further, and finally got the main phone line for Customer Services at Picturehouse.
I then talked with a helpful chap called Jim, who said he would need to ring Greenwich Picturehouse to see.
Jim then promised that Greenwich Picturehouse would email me that same afternoon.
And indeed I got a response:
“Good Afternoon Mr Woolfe,
Please accept my apologies for the failure in returning your email. We have been waiting to hear from our programming department if it would be possible to hold a subtitled screening of Sing Street. After receiving the okay we are hoping to screen it on next weeks programme so please check the website, or indeed contact us again for more information.
All the best,
How difficult can it be?!
On Sunday I reluctantly accepted that nothing was going to happen, and got in my car and drove for 1.5 hours to Wandsworth Cineworld to be able to see the film. It was a BRILLIANT film, and enjoyed by everyone – I think I was the only deaf person in the audience as far as I could see. Every song had lyrics as well as the film being totally captioned.
Why, in 2016, should deaf people be travelling miles to see a captioned film? Why should deaf people be spending hours trying to chase and achieve a captioned film in 2016! And why should deaf people wait a week before being told if we can access a film?
Talking with my French friend recently, it turns out that every Western film show in France is immediately captioned. It is almost as if in the UK we are punished for living in an English speaking country!
It feels like we are “beggars”, waiting for hearing naive staff members to decide when we can watch a captioned film, and only if they agree to provide one.
I’m still waiting to hear from Greenwich Picturehouse by the way.
And you wonder why Deaf people look so frustrated at times?
Tyron is a mad fan of Billy Elliot the musical, and he’s seen it 39 times! He has worked at the National Deaf Children’s Society for almost 9 years as Deputy Director for Children and Young People, although his views here are his own and not that of the charity. Tyron is known for having a strong interest in politics, gay issues and trying to get everyone to join the dots in society!
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