Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) launched Visible Cinema, a monthly Film Club for Deaf and hard of hearing audiences, in March 2015. Developed in partnership with Film Hub Scotland and Solar Bear, and with funding from Creative Scotland, this is the first initiative of its kind in Scotland. The aim of Visible Cinema is both to bring awareness to cinema access, and to provide a relaxed and welcoming environment in which those who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy a range of films.
Cinema Exhibition and Deaf audiences
Approximately 850,000 people in Scotland are deaf or have hearing loss. In recent years cinema exhibitors have made great strides to ensure their venues are accessible. Personal audio-description equipment has given blind and partially sighted people the freedom to watch a wide range of cinema and the CEA card has provided free cinema tickets to carers to enable people who need assistance to attend screenings with confidence. Other initiatives such as Autism Friendly Film Screenings have helped audiences previously excluded from the cinema-going experience to participate.
However the provision for deaf audiences – while improving – has been less than ideal. This pilot programme sought to address failings in current provision, and also seeks to build knowledge and understanding to create a cultural shift in how cinemas provide programming for Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences.
Visible Cinema Pilot Scheme
Visible Cinema built on feedback gathered by the GFT through focus groups with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in 2014. Focus group participants described their cinema experiences and expressed an overall preference for watching captioned and subtitled films rather than BSL interpreted screenings. However they felt their film choices were very limited. Participants also recommended and emphasised the importance of Hard of Hearing and Deaf Awareness training for cinema staff.
The aim of the pilot was to enable GFT to develop the tools, knowledge and methodology to deliver a high quality, engaging programme of film for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. At the core of this programme was a holistic approach to access, which includes staff training (basic BSL & deaf awareness training), availability of a hearing loop system and infrared in the cinema, social activity, BSL interpreted discussions and participant feedback. GFT worked closely with Glasgow Theatre Company Solar Bear (http://www.solarbear.org.uk), in the development of the Film Club, which is based on their successful Deaf Theatre Club model.
The pilot scheme of Visible Cinema ran for ten months from March 2015 and included captioned, subtitled and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted screenings, followed by post film discussions. During this pilot 24 films were screened as part of the Visible Cinema Film Club.
The Main Project Aims were:
- To provide regular screenings for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences
- Training for venue staff – basic BSL and deaf awareness training
- Availability of a hearing loop system and infrared in the cinema
- BSL interpreted introductions, talks and post-film discussions
- Social activity post discussion
- Support materials for the film with Plain English copy (as often British Sign Language users first language is BSL not English)
- Use targeted marketing to reach the right audiences
- Partner with representative organisations
The pilot project delivered positive social, cultural, community, organisational and individual impacts, successfully embedding a specialised deaf/hard-of-hearing provision in the GFT’s on-going cinema provision.
During the pilot, 758 people attended Visible Cinema Screening events. The GFT were also the first cinema venue to request a captioned film be made from scratch, when they specially commissioned an accessible version of the film Winter. As a result of the Visible Cinema project, the GFT were shortlisted for two Scottish Council On Deafness Star Awards in 2016, for Research and Development and as an Accessibility champion.
What audiences said:
“I feel like this is what going to the cinema will be like in the utopian future I dream of!”
“What I enjoyed about tonight was the fact I could discuss the film after it finished. It is captioned which isn’t BSL so there were parts of it I didn’t clearly understand. Here in the bar area I was able to clarify a few things and understood the content to a better level. To add to that I love the fact that films aren’t only in the morning as in other cinemas. Love the name “Visible Cinema””
“Visible Cinema is a fantastic idea. I love the idea of regular captioned/subtitled films, old and new. Mixing with other groups of people including Hard of Hearing etc. Can’t wait for more of the same.”
“Nice for our community to have more options rather than a limited choice of what we can and can’t see.”
After the successful Visible Cinema pilot, GFT and Film Hub Scotland are planning to continue to promote advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing audiences within the wider film industry and community. The learning from the pilot scheme will enable GFT to develop the tools, knowledge and methodology to deliver a high quality, engaging programme of film for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Film Hub Scotland aims to use this model and roll out similar film clubs throughout cinemas across Scotland
This project was developed as part of Creative Scotland’s Promoting Equalities Programme.
Jodie Wilkinson, Head of Participation and Learning at GFT, has compiled a toolkit full of useful advise for exhibitors about working with deaf and hard of hearing audiences. You can read this on the ICO website here.
Glasgow Film Theatre