First published in the January 2012 edition of The Hearing Times.
Three years ago, I became a father for the first time and with feeding times and the general chaos of life-change, I suddenly found it harder than ever to get to the cinema for one of the few subtitled screenings. Which is, all in all, a bit of a problem for a scriptwriter.
Additionally, I found that the subtitled films I could get myself to were Hollywood blockbusters, rather than the art-house fare I usually watch (ok, ok. I’m a snob. I admit it).
I’d also noticed that most of the regular events for deaf people in London and elsewhere revolved – in some way – around drinking. Deaf pub and club meets, new years eve bashes, and so on. There seemed to be a gap for a regular night where deaf people could meet, hand-wag for a bit, take in some culture, then chat about it afterwards. We could still have a drink – it just wouldn’t be the main focus of the evening.
So, with my own need to temporarily escape parenthood for the occasional film, and deaf people in the capital needing a regular cultural night out, the London Subtitled Cinema Group was born. My thinking was that if enough of us got together, we could persuade a cinema chain to put on subtitled screenings especially for us. You can hope can’t you?
Well, somehow it worked. After one failed approach with another cinema, I got a positive response from the Curzon Cinema group, who by chance had a member of staff with a deaf granddaughter, and as a consequence, really understood what a deaf group would need.
After a few meetings – where I persuaded them to offer us discounted tickets, and they in turn told me more about the practicalities of getting distributors to provide subtitles for films – we were soon booked in to see Where The Wild Things Are, just before Christmas 2009. In truth, the film was a disappointment for anyone who remembers the children’s book, but around 25 people came, proving that there was demand for the group, and everyone got on famously.
Since then we’ve seen 15 films, with highlights including The Secret in Their Eyes, A Prophet, and most recently Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. Between 20-30 people attend each screening, with the record group attendance being the 40 members who came to see The Social Network.
There is one main group rule. It’s for deafies only – though the members are very welcome to bring hearing friends and family along. The best thing about the group is the friendships that have developed. I’ve gone on to work with several of the group members, and I’m proud to report (Cilla Black style) that we even have a group romance – between two members who met after we saw a very strange Greek film called Dogtooth.
Recently, I’ve heard about another cinema group which has been set up in the north-east, by Paul Terry. His group is attended mainly by hearing people, but go to subtitled screenings because they have a deaf member.
What’s clear is that when a group of people get together, it’s much easier to get cinemas to agree to provide subtitles. He told me “getting numbers up means we can start requesting specific movies, perhaps older, foreign, limited release and subtitled movies for the club to enjoy. I’m also hoping that technology will soon be at a point where deaf people can come along and enjoy movies with us without having to put on a specifically subtitled movie.”
When it comes to demanding better provision for cinema access, what better way of persuading cinemas to show films with subtitles than demonstrating that there’s a big demand for it?
So if you’re looking for a project this new year, why not set up a cinema group in your area? It’s a great way of bringing people together, and you might just see a subtitled film that’ll stay in your mind for life.