Lidia Best: With cinema subtitles, mine is a tale of two countries

Posted on December 21, 2017


Recently, a new petition to improve access to cinemas for deaf and hard of hearing people in UK was set up by Limping Chicken’s Editor, Charlie Swinbourne (please sign it here).

It came at a time when some people were voicing complaints about subtitled films from hearing viewers and others are simply not able to find subtitled screenings nearby.

To add insult to injury, it is over one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year, “Star Wars: the Last Jedi”.

Anyone can see it at any given time… providing you can hear well.

So, why a tale of two countries? I hold dual citizenship, having grown up in Poland and settling as an adult in the UK.

My best childhood and teenage memories are closely associated with the cinema experience. In Poland, television was completely inaccessible to me, it still is when you compare it to the accessibility of UK TV channels which top the leagues in Europe.

Yet it was the cinema in Poland where I felt completely immersed in the plot and treated like an equal, thanks to all Hollywood movies being subtitled!

I spent half of my free weekends in the cinema! What a joy to discuss the latest release during school breaks, and the race to be the first to see the movie. Can you believe that once I saw the same movie 7 times?! Deciding on a whim…let’s go to movies!

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I realised that this is apparently a luxury experience in the UK. We have simply stopped checking for subtitled releases, why even bother?

Every time I visit Poland, I make a point to see the latest blockbuster release, with the knowledge that I will be enjoying it on an equal basis with my sister and other viewers.

A cinema experience every day, at any time of my choosing! I saw “Gravity”, “Circle” and many more before my deaf friends in UK could see it.

Just last weekend, my husband and I checked Vue cinema subtitled offerings on Star Wars in our area of West London, to our dismay we found none! Do I have to fly out to Poland to see the latest Star Wars release?! Well, technically I could but…what about my husband? He cannot read Polish.

I know that this is not limited to Poland, other European countries have open captions in the cinemas for foreign movies, which is 90% of their offerings.

To be fair to my European friends and Polish ones too, the native made-movies are often not accessible , a similar situation to what my UK friends are experiencing.

The exception to the rule is perhaps Sweden, where all movies- native or foreign- have open subtitling, perhaps other countries should follow suit?

In the UK, we are greatly disadvantaged as most cinema movies are in English and I really miss my childhood carefree experience of popping in to the cinema whenever I fancied it.

Let’s shout out for a carefree cinema experience, free from exclusion where all people can enjoy the joys of cinema equally!

Lidia Best is the Chair of the National Association of Deafened People and Vice President of European Federation of Hard of Hearing People.


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