Stats on cinema access in UK

Image courtesy of NDCS

I popped along to a disability working group for cinemas yesterday and I was reminded that, however much I moan about cinema access, there have been big changes since I was a young person. And, compared to most other major countries, Britain is ahead of the pack.

Consider a few stats:

* 19 out of the top 20 UK releases last year were available with subtitles at the cinema (I think the offending omission may have been the Twilight film…)
* 300 plus cinemas have subtitled facilities, around half of all cinemas. This compares to around 20 in 2003. Those that don’t, tend to be smaller, independent cinemas.
* There are 550 subtitled films shown nationwide weekly

Apparently, the UK is the only country in the EU that offers subtitled films on this scale.

Not that there still isn’t a lot of progress to be made. Lots of subtitled films are still on only at the off-peak “graveyard” slots. “Technical problems” still crop up. And I still have a dream that one day I’ll be able to go into any cinema and ask for on-demand subtitles on any film. Encouragingly though, cinemas seem to be listening to these points, as the very existence of the disability working group shows.

But, since I’m in a good mood today, I think it’s worth praising the cinemas for the progress made so far. Do you agree that things are better than they used to be? What progress do you want to see next?

PS Just a reminder that you can see which subtitled films are showing in your area at yourlocalcinema.com.

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Facing the cameras on subtitled cinema

Yesterday, I did something I’ve never done before – a media interview to camera. I have now recovered enough to recount my experiences.

It wasn’t actually that bad in the end. It was for Your Local Cinema.com website and I was asked a few questions about how the website had helped me as a deaf person. I explained how as a deaf child I felt left out and excluded when my hearing friends would go to see films and I couldn’t because there would be no subtitles. I almost slipped in an anecdote about how I didn’t have a clue what had happened to Bambi’s Mum when I went to see Bambi as a six year old. And I spoke about how Your Local Cinema.com is a fantastic resource.

Before the interview, I also got to practice my acting skills when I was asked to be filmed in the cinema pretending to enjoy a film. I will expect nothing less than an Oscar after doing my best faces for ‘highly amused’ and ‘overwhelmed by the drama’.

All in all, an interesting experience and I picked up some media techniques. Inevitably, I thought of lots of things to say afterwards that I should have said. I also managed to stumble over my words at one point when I said “myself and other deaf children”. But, hopefully, it will all be positive effort in helping to promote Your Local Cinema.com and it’s importance for deaf children. And hopefully NDCS too, after I cheekily wore my purple NDCS t-shirt during the interview.

A production company is putting together the material and will be sending it out to various programmes – so I’m not sure sure when it will be screened or if my piece will make the final cut – but will let you know.

Cinema access website up for top award

Fresh from winning a People’s Choice award, Dean Rhodes-Brandon, the pioneer behind Your Local Cinema.com website are up for yet another award. This is one is a National Lottery Award for Best Arts Project.

It would be great if they win. So if you want to help make it happen, you can vote online and / or you can call 0844 686 8020. It costs around 5p from a BT phone line and it’s an automated phone line, so you can hang up after 10 seconds without saying anything.

Votes must be in by the 10th July. So get voting!

Are we too nice to cinemas?

There was an interesting comment (see, I do read them!) to my blog about subtitled spectacles suggest that we’re too nice to cinemas and that deaf people should be demanding the right to watch subtitles films at convenient times, not just at quiet times when hearing people don’t want to go.

On the one hand, cinemas say that the UK leads the world on accessible cinema and they provide more and more subtitled films – even though low attendance numbers mean they rarely make a profit out of it. It’s claimed that hearing people won’t see subtitled showings. Their line is that cinemas need to make a profit at the end of the day and they can’t do so if they show subtitled films at peak times.

On the other hand, if access means anything, it means being able to go and see a film at a reasonable time, maybe on a Friday or Saturday along with my hearing friends. There is very little meaningful choice. If I happen to be busy on the one Tuesday that a subtitled film is showing in central-ish location, I may find myself never getting an opportunity to see a film I really want to see. As Alison said, the policy of only showing subtitled films at twilight zone times rather feels like forcing a wheelchair to come in by the backdoor.

My conclusion is that if the cinema industry is serious about providing access, it needs to find ways to provide meaningful choice. If they feel they can’t do this without driving away hearing customers, then they have a responsibility to come up with innovative ways around this – like subtitles spectacles or rear view windows or whatever, anything that works for everyone.

What do you think? Are we too nice to cinemas? How do we respond to their justifications for not going further?

Subtitled spectacles

I was at a meeting a fortnight ago of a group that brings together cinema industry guys and representatives from the disability sector to talk about access to the cinema. It was a useful meeting and the highlight came right at end when the man from yourlocalcinema.com mentioned some new technology – subtitled spectacles.

The idea is that you wear some special glasses and that the subtitles to the film come up on the inside of the glasses. So only you can see the subtitles. Apparently, RAF fighters already use a similar technology.

The obvious benefit is that the subtitles would not be visible to other people in the cinema. Whilst the UK leads the world in accessible cinema, there is still a lack of choice of films at convenient times for deaf children and adults. Cinemas still tend to show films at ‘quiet’ times when hearing people are less likely to go for fear that they’ll lose too much business if they show such films at more popular times. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it makes me think that the existing model of delivering access will never deliver real choice. Hence my interest in technology that allows deaf people to see a film at any time of their choosing.

Has anyone else come across subtitled spectacles? Does it have any potential?

Subtitled films at the cinema: where next?

I had a useful chat earlier this week with the people behind www.yourlocalcinema.com 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.