Charlie Swinbourne: 5 ways cinemas could give deaf people a better deal

Posted on December 19, 2017

After posting this article, Charlie started a petition to try and make point 1, multiplexes dedicating one screen to subtitled screenings, a reality. Please sign it here.

Yesterday, our story about how an Odeon cinema in Brighton allegedly turned off the subtitles at a subtitled screening of Star Wars after complaints from hearing people in the audience went viral.

So it seems as good a time as any to share a few ideas I’ve been mulling over about how the cinema industry could give deaf people – who need subtitles to enjoy cinema – a much better deal.

1.Dedicate one screen in each multiplex solely to subtitled screenings

Sign the petition to make this happen, here.

One of the issues for many deaf people is the fact that we can’t just go to the cinema any time we like.

Instead, we have to carefully work out when subtitled screenings are (using, working around the fact that many screenings are at inconvenient times and hoping that when we do go, the subtitles actually work.

But what if each multiplex dedicated one of its screens to showing films with subtitles, all day, every day?

That screen could show family films during the day, with films for older tastes in the early and late evenings. It’d be crucial that the screen showed a variety of films rather than the same film all day.

What would be refreshing about this is that a deaf person could turn up at any multiplex knowing that there’d be a film on that they could watch.

This would also have the benefit of developing and growing the audience for subtitled screenings – it’s hard to know what the actual demand is when poor service and irregular screening times have put many deaf people off going to the cinema.

2. Dedicate one day each week to subtitled screenings

Yesterday, a new independent cinema called Depot, which is based in Lewes, near Brighton, got in touch to tell me about an amazing initiative which very nearly had me checking out whether it might be possible to move to the town.

Incredibly (and being honest, I still don’t really believe this) Dino Bishop from the cinema told me that they show subtitled screenings all day on Monday, on each of its three screens (providing subtitle files are available for each film).

You’re reading that right. All day, every Monday, every screening, every screen.

Bishop told me:

The policy applies to all films on a Monday, whether they are blockbusters or small independent films, in the daytime or the peak evening slot – we are thereby letting the deaf and hard of hearing person decide when and what they see, rather than us deciding for them.

This is basically by far the best provision of subtitles I’ve ever heard of. If you’re deaf and live locally, please go along and support them.

3. Stop depending on to market subtitled screenings, and be much more out and proud about them

Your Local Cinema is a great resource, but the fact it exists shows how poor cinemas themselves are at marketing subtitled screenings.

If cinemas made subtitled screenings more prominent on their own websites and in their foyers, more of their non-deaf patrons would be aware they exist.

And here’s another tip, along with making subtitles provision more prominent, tell people what subtitles are for. Then tell them again. And again.

Meaning – say: ‘This screening is subtitled for deaf and hard of hearing people’ next to every listing of a subtitled film and even put it on the big screen right before a film starts.

That way, hearing film fans who are vocal about hating subtitles (also known as total idiots) have no excuses when a film starts and the subtitles roll on.

4. Get subtitle glasses out there

Last week, See Hear showed an item about how the National Theatre is developing the use of captioned glasses to that deaf people can go to any play they want, any night of the week, rather than waiting for irregular captioned screenings.

Wider use of the same type of glasses, which have been around for a few years now, would help give deaf people the freedom to go to any movie they want, anytime.

5. Open a subtitled cinema, that doubles as a deaf club

This idea wouldn’t solve the problem nationwide, but in major cities it could be a genuinely amazing thing.

What if there was a subtitled cinema, that showed all its films with subtitles, all the time?

In London, for example, such a place could double up as a central London deaf club, with a bar hosting regular deaf-friendly events, and acting as a hang-out for deaf people.

The venue would be staffed with deaf employees, encouraging visitors to communicate in deaf-friendly ways such as ordering drinks and food in sign language.

It could be a boutique-style place, with sofas, one or two screens, somewhere that anyone would like to visit. Maybe it could have offices that deaf media companies could be based in. Perhaps deaf plays could also be performed there. Maybe sign language could be taught there. Maybe it’d be a deaf arts/cultural centre too.

This one has been a dream of mine for a couple of years. So I should probably go and buy some lottery tickets right now and make it happen…

Read more of Charlie’s articles here.

Charlie Swinbourne is a journalist and is the editor of Limping Chicken, and is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. Charlie has just set up his own media production company, Eyewitness Media. Both episodes of his new sketch comedy in BSL, Deaf Funny, can be seen on the BSL Zone website



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