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Since 1992 MEDIA Salles has been promoting the European cinema and its circulation at theatrical level




by Elisabetta Brunella

Amongst the most interesting challenges for the movie theatres of the future is undoubtedly increasing accessibility, in other words opening up the cinema-going experience to those with impaired sight or hearing.
In Europe this issue is beginning to arouse interest, partly because of the need to comply with EU policies, whilst in other parts of the world accessibility is already in place.
For further information on accessibility in cinemas, see Michael Karagosian's talk at the 2013 DigiTraining Plus course, available at the following link:

Argentina: a handbook published on accessibility in cinemas

Last August in Argentina, the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales presented the publication "La accesibilidad a los medios audiovisuales: la narración en lengua de señas argentina y el subtitulado para personas sordas".
This handbook, which came out in response to the Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual, guaranteeing that all types of spectators enjoy audiovisual content, opens by stating that in a world where new technologies ensure that the means for inclusion are possible, the right of those with impaired sight or hearing to take part in the cinema-going experience must be guaranteed.
The publication, authored by Claudia Gabriela D'Angelo and María Ignacia Massone, arises out of collaboration with the Argentinian Deaf and Dumb Association (CAS) and the National Institute against Discrimination, xenophobia and racism (INADI), as well as with the Federal Authorities on Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research.
Thanks to the competence of its individual contributors, the publication is able to deal with the various technical aspects of accessibility - from subtitling to audio descriptions - with close attention to the practical side of it.
Extremely precise instructions are given, for instance, to cinemas that wish to create subtitles for a film or for other types of content (for example live events), or to include a window on the screen for an interpreter translating the content into Argentinian sign language. One particularly significant consideration emerging from the book is linked to domestic cinema. Argentina is a country in which foreign-language films - particularly those produced in the U.S. - are subtitled. Almost paradoxically, this makes American cinema and foreign productions accessible to those with impaired hearing, whilst the same is not true for domestic productions. The use of subtitles for those with hearing impediments can thus be considered a resource that will boost the domestic cinema market.


France and the UK: accessibility already in place

The Fontenelle may appear to be a small cinema site, just like many of the others that serve one of the numerous small towns scattered over the region of Paris. If Marly-le-Roi (population 16,000) is less famous than its neighbour Versailles, it is just as "proud of its royal origins", but at the same time "looks to the future".
This is what the municipal website has to say and the same philosophy seems to inspire the Fontenelle, a traditional art-house cinema yet recently equipped with two digital screens, which has always laid emphasis on quality programming.
But what makes the Fontenelle an avant-garde cinema is also its ability to address spectators with difficulties in seeing or hearing.
The cinema offers films with French subtitles for spectators with hearing impediments and - when a film has a channel available for audio description - titles suitable for the sight-impaired.
The situation at the Fontenelle thus already proves to be in line with European policy, which demands that cinemas take steps to provide a service for all types of spectators. This is the spirit of article 7 of the EU's AVMSD (Audiovisual Media Services Directive), which reads:

"Member States shall encourage media service providers under their jurisdiction to ensure that their services are gradually made accessible to people with a visual or hearing disability."

"Why on earth should the hearing-impaired not have the chance to be cinema lovers?" comments Pascal Humbert, manager of the Lido cinema in Castres, which has been offering versions suitable for the hearing-impaired since last June.
As a consequence, for some weeks, audiences in this small town in the region of Toulouse have been witnessing screenings with rather different subtitles from those generally provided for films in their original language.
To make them more useful to those who have a hearing impediment, for example, the words are colour-coded according to the character who speaks them. Capital letters are used if the actor is shouting and comments are provided to describe sounds. "The only disadvantage," continues Pascal Humbert, "is that there are still very few films available in this version."
On a larger scale, the experiences of the Fontenelle or the Lido are offered in France by a group that covers the whole country, Gaumont Pathé, whose cinemas provide films subtitled for the hearing-impaired on Thursdays and Saturdays.
It is not only France that is determined to move towards a goal which - as the European directive states - must progressively be adopted by exhibitors in Europe, but also Great Britain.
Here the big chains - Vue, Odeon and Cineworld - offer a range of services including audio descriptions and subtitles on individual devices, such as mini-screens or glasses, made available by the cinema to those who ask for them.
The transmitter/receiver on the glasses is also a support for the audio channel, with descriptions for the sight-impaired.
What makes these options feasible is without doubt digital technology.
With 35mm film, the channel for the hearing-impaired was created by the audio processor, whilst the narrative channel for the sight-impaired was only available on an "Accessibility Disc for Digital Theatre Systems".
Digital has improved this situation dramatically: channels for those with hearing or visual impediments are already available in the files the cinema receives together with the film and no particularly complex equipment is necessary for them to be used.
We often ask ourselves what tomorrow's cinema will be like. One of the keywords will certainly be accessibility, or the possibility of getting rid of physical or sensorial barriers, so that a growing number of people can enjoy the experience of cinema on the big screen.