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November 13, 2003

Open-captioned film screenings offer more viewers movie magic

From: Arkansas Democrat Gazette, AR - Nov 13, 2003


Going to the movie theater used to be a frustrating experience for the deaf and hearingimpaired.

Now, thanks to a Los Angeles-based nonprofit called InSight Cinema, cineplexes across the country are showing full open-captioned major-market movies, featuring English subtitles complete with audio prompts for slamming doors, doorbells and off-screen dialogue (radio broadcasts, for example).

InSight officials say the dialogue is 98 percent verbatim, readable in real time as the character speaks. They're laser-etched onto the print, without a black box, so they can be more easily seen and read. And unlike subtitles in foreign films, the open captions are positioned directly beneath the speaker on screen, so it's easy to identify who's saying what.

Moreover, open-captioned movies don't require movie theaters to install any special equipment. "An open-captioned film is so flexible that it can play on every screen in any theater," according to InSight's Web site.

Movie theaters in west Little Rock (UA Breckenridge Village 12), North Little Rock (UA Lakewood 8), Fayetteville (Regal Fiesta Square 16) and Bentonville (Carmike Sugar Creek 10) offer open-captioned films, one every two weeks. "This is a great thing that they're doing," says Chris White, a computer-aided drafter for Dillard's who lives in Little Rock and who identifies her hearing lack as "very profound."

She's on a mission to get the word out to the deaf and hearing communities. "If I wanted to see a movie, I had to wait until it came out on video, and I don't like rentals as much as I like going to the theater," she says.

She rarely misses a picture — "I try to go to every one, even the ones I don't like" — though she had to skip the recent screening of captioned Seabiscuitbecause she was on vacation and out of town.

She most regrets Miramax's decision not to issue a captioned version of Chicago— she admits musicals are harder to do, but the studio did release a captioned version of Moulin Rouge.

White says the theaters are rarely crowded for captioned film screenings. "No, not at all," she says. "That's why I want to get them some exposure. There's not enough people."

She heard about the captioned films through a self-help group for hard-of-hearing people, but many hearing-impaired folks have no idea they're available. "Theaters do have a label on their movie listings, but a lot of people don't know what that means," she says. "It's paramount — the adjective, not the movie studio — that people are aware of this," says InSight CEO Nanci Linke-Ellis. "The more people that hear about this, the more it will go."

InSight's Web site — www. insightcinema. org — lists theaters that offer open-captioned films. (Arkansas' four are "more than we have in LA," Linke-Ellis says.) And www. ohsoez. com, a site that offers services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, offers a list of what captioned movies are playing where.

Exhibitor chains Regal Entertainment, which operates the United Artists theaters in west Little Rock and North Little Rock and the Fiesta Square 16 in Fayetteville, and Carmike Cinemas Inc., which operates the theater in Bella Vista, have "open caption" links on their sites, www. regalcinemas. com and www. carmike. com, that list locations and show times.

Linke-Ellis was determined to bring "the big-screen experience" to deaf and hard-ofhearing audiences. She grew up deaf but got cochlear implants 10 years ago that enabled her to hear, and admits her movie motives were at least partially selfish. "I wanted to go to the movies," she says. "I saw captioned films as a way I could go into the movie and understand."

The captioned films are also a boon for "late-deafened adults who have stopped going to the movies," she says, for those studying English as a second language and for beginning readers.

According to InSight, 28 million Americans identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing. "With the aging baby boomers starting to lose their collective hearing after years of loud rock concerts and escalating noise pollution, that number is expected to increase over the next 10 years," the company says.

InSight, which marked its first anniversary Nov. 1, acts as a liaison between the movie studios that release captioned versions of some, though not all, of their movies (mostly rated PG and PG-13 — "some areas tend not to go for R movies," Linke-Ellis says), and theater owners.

Among the recent, current and coming films available with open captions: American Wedding, Brother Bear, Bruce Almighty, Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, Finding Nemo, Good Boy!, The Hulk, Intolerable Cruelty, The Italian Job, Johnny English, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Love Actually, Matchstick Men, The Matrix Reloaded, Mystic River, Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, The Rundown, Seabiscuit, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and X-Men 2.

Most theaters show opencaptioned movies on "off" days — the Fiesta Square 16 in Fayetteville screens them on Sundays and Mondays, and White says the Lakewood 8 in North Little Rock usually has them on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — but Linke-Ellis says she's hoping someday "we'll have so many deaf and hard-of-hearing customers that they will give us Fridays and Saturdays."

Even though the crowds are small, they represent to theater owners a few more customers through the door whom they wouldn't normally be able to attract. "There's a group of 10 or more people that come to each one," says Mark Westenmeyer, manager of the Sugar Creek 10 in Bella Vista. "Sometimes they bring friends."

He estimates the biggest crowd for an open-captioned movie at 20-25.

And, Linke-Ellis notes, they buy popcorn, drinks and other concessions, which are where theaters make their profit. (" I'm rather partial to the candy, "White says.)

Westenmeyer says more than just the bottom line is at stake.

" It's a great service to be able to offer this kind of movie to the community, " he says.

© 2003 Arkansas Democrat Gazette