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January 27, 2006

Deaf Talkabout: We need to be be kept in the big picture, too

From: Belfast Telegraph - United Kingdom - Jan 27, 2006

Bob McCullough
27 January 2006

The Iveagh Movie Studios, Banbridge, is screening a couple of subtitled films for deaf and hard of hearing patrons this weekend: Fun with Dick and Jane, at 4.15pm on Saturday and Sunday, followed later next week with Just like Heaven, at 6pm on Wednesday, February 1.

The announcement comes with a warning that unless these showings are well supported future subtitled performances will not be possible.

Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast is another of the eight cinemas in Northern Ireland taking part in this venture and they, too, offer a wide range of subtitled films, both new releases when available and foreign language films.

They, too, are surprised and disappointed by the apparent apathy, and an email from them arrived at the same time as a circular from the RNID asking why so very few deaf people are taking the trouble to go and see these films.

Campaigns co-ordinator Claire Mullan says the NI Film and Television Commission launched this new service last year and, in co-operation with the RNID, is trying to find a reason for the lack of support. Both deaf and hard of hearing people had told them they wanted and needed subtitled films. So why are so few going?

Evelyn and I very much enjoyed the subtitled version of Pride and Prejudice at QFT a few months ago and were all set to see Dancing with Penguins just before Christmas but were caught up in a huge traffic jam at Shaftesbury Square and it was well after starting time before we got to the theatre. Parking was impossible to find and after driving around local streets we eventually gave up and went home.

Perhaps you would say I ought to have given myself more time to get to the film, but hearing folk are not restricted to special showings. They go whenever it suits them and when the weather and circumstances are agreeable. If one cinema is not available or things such as the Christmas shopping rush interfere they just go to another place of entertainment. Deaf people don't have this choice.

Then there is the ambience to consider. We receive a full understanding of the action from the subtitles, and they are wonderful; but the words on the screen cannot convey the reaction of the audience and the involuntary gasps of excitement and the laughter and sobs with which the watchers share their involvement in the film.

Pride and Prejudice was great, but we were lonely in the crowd and cut off from the music that sets the mood and helps create the atmosphere. In all great films there are times when words take second place to the unspoken attraction between characters and at times like this we deaf folk can lose the thread.

One of the reasons deaf people gave for wanting subtitled films was the long time they had to wait to see the same films on TV where subtitles are taken as a matter of course.

Last week I watched United play Liverpool on a new 36 inch digital television and it was nearly as good as watching the real thing. The subtitles, as well as being larger and clearer, now come up automatically when you change channels and dialling 888 is no longer necessary. Another step forward for equality.

We still have to wait for the new releases, but in the meantime we have a plethora of other attractions to enjoy on our TVs - and the desire to see a hot new film at an unsuitable time and place starts to pall.

It has been suggested that all films should have subtitles but visible only to deaf patrons wearing special glasses. That'll be the day!

© 2005 Independent News and Media (NI)
a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd