Award-winning website for deaf cinema-goers under threat

First published in the Hearing Times, May 2011. To read the newspaper for free, sign up here.

An award-winning website which has played a key role in increasing the number of subtitled screenings for deaf cinema-goers is under threat after losing its main source of funding.

YourLocalCinema.com is the only comprehensive source of information for subtitled cinema in the UK, attracting over 150,000 visitors to the site each month. It features listings for subtitled screenings all over the UK (searchable by town or by film), subtitled trailers, and sends out a weekly newsletter to over 65,000 subscribers. The site also features thousands of listings for audio described films, aimed at visually impaired people.

The UK Film Council has been the primary funders of the site since 2004, but lost its funding responsibilities after being axed by the government. While some UK Film Council departments have been transferred to the British Film Institute, the diversity department – which funded YourLocalCinema.com – has been abolished, leaving little hope of the BFI maintaining funding for the site.

While the UK Film Council is not the site’s sole funder, it is by far the biggest. Founder Dean Rhodes Brandon said: “we receive some funding from all the major cinema companies, as well as the major studios – such as Disney, Warner Bros, and 20th Century Fox. But the UK Film Council has always provided the vast majority of our funds.”

If an alternative source of funding is not found, the innovative site will run out of funding in December this year – resulting in the loss of a vital portal of information for thousands of deaf and visually impaired film fans. Dean said “it’s not just the site that is at risk, it’s everything we do, such as working with the cinema industry, and deaf organisations like the RNID and the NDCS to make changes for the better.”

Dean set up YourLocalCinema.com in 2000, when he was only 15 years old. His work won him, and the site, vast publicity and a variety of awards, including the Daily Mail People’s Choice Enterprise Award, the British Telecom BT Remote Worker Award (both in 2009) and RADAR’s Young Person of the Year award in 2006. As recently as February, the site won an Innovation in Cinema award voted for by the UK Film Industry.

In the eleven years the site has been running, it has played a crucial role in the dramatic increase in subtitled screenings. “In 2000, there was nothing,” says Dean. “It has been very much a collaborative effort, between many people in the UK film industry, to get us to where we are today. There’s now more than 600 English language subtitled shows weekly, of almost every popular film, in almost every major cinema nationwide.”

After originally being run for free, the rapid increase in accessible screenings and traffic to the site meant that being funded by the UK Film Council from 2004 was vital in paying for the costs of the site. “We did it for free in the beginning,” Dean told me, “for around three years until we managed to persuade companies to sponsor us, but there wasn’t so much to do back then. More subtitled and audio described films and shows has resulted in more time being required to collect, collate and disseminate the info.”

Ironically, the site’s future has been thrown into doubt just as the future for subtitled cinema looks brighter than ever. Dean said: “we’re confident that thanks to recent/upcoming digital cinema standards, 2011/12 will see further improvements in UK cinema access. Basically it will soon be easier for cinemas to improve their ‘subtitle’ service. Eventually there will be at least 500 UK cinemas with built-in digital subtitle facilities. So things will get even better.”

Dean and his father, who also works on the site, plan to keep looking for new funding. While a significant sum, the amount of funding the site requires is relatively small compared to many other access organisations. Dean said: “it’s just enough to keep one and a half people in employment. The only costs are people’s time. It’s a virtual business with no office costs.”

What would happen if the site closed? Dean says: “if we ceased to exist, deaf people would have much more difficulty finding out what’s subtitled, where and when, and the deaf community would lose a site that has been successful in fighting their corner to making improvements in cinema access.”

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