Subtitled films at the cinema: where next?

I had a useful chat earlier this week with the people behind which provides listings of all subtitled films in the country. As an avid, but often frustrated, film-goer it was quite interesting to get an insider view…

Which is, overall, there has been an explosion in the availability of subtitled films in the past 5 years. In 2003, there were about 20 cinemas which could show subtitles. Now the figures stands at around 300. Nationwide, there are about 2,000 English language subtitled films every month. To someone who grew up with the choice of going to see a film and not have a clue what was being said or waiting until about 6 months until it came out on video, and missing out on hanging out on my friends, this is an impressive leap. I still remember the time I tried to make sense of the plot in the Mission Impossible film…

That’s the good news. But I wouldn’t be deaf if I still didn’t have major gripes about it all. The big one is the lack of choice. Subtitled films are not (apparently) popular with other film goers. A good cinema will show around 2 films with subtitles a week – and these will be at quiet times, and rarely at times when a deaf child’s hearing peers might want to go and see a film. I, for one, personally resent having to arrange my social life around the scheduling of subtitled films, or not being able to see a film at the same time as my hearing friends.

Are personalised caption screens the way forward? These are small screens that are set up in front of a cinema seat, on which captions are shown through some clever infra-red technology. They would be unobstructive to other cinema goers who would not see any subtitles on the main screen. Apparently, the technology is still developing but I couldn’t hope wondering if it would be a better way of realising the ambition of deaf children being able to walk into a cinema at any time and see any film with subtitles of their chosing… Should we be pushing for faster develoment and roll-out of this technology to see deaf children genuine choice at the cinema?

The Cinema Exhibitions Association has a Disability Working Group and we’re hoping this will be one of the items for discussion at the next meeting in December. So watch this space.


2 thoughts on “Subtitled films at the cinema: where next?

  1. See also and (click on link to “emerging tech.pdf”). Individual/seat-based caption display systems enable movie goers to see any movie they want with captions at any time. However, this is sometimes viewed as a compromise because it requires individuals to obtain and use caption display equipment and the quality of the viewing experience is different. At the same time, the ability to see captions on the screen, without the need to obtain and use caption display equipment, is often compromised by limited and less popular show dates/times. Here in the US, Regal Cinemas tends to display captions on the screen (with the kind of equipment used in the UK) twice a day on Sunday through Thursday, and for one matinee showing each on Friday and Saturday.

    Also here in the US, movie theaters are starting to go “digital” — moving away from showing movies using film prints. The Mopix Rear Window caption systems need to be adjusted to display captions for digital movies. Digital movies can also be configured to display captions or subtitles at the “push of a button,” eliminating the need for any additional caption/subtitle display equipment in a movie theater.

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