In December, I was interviewed in San Francisco by Raphaella Bennin of Pushing Limits on KPFA 94.1 FM radio, which is located in Berkeley. She interviewed me about the Department of Justice's upcoming hearing in San Francisco on the issue of movie captioning in theatres. I discussed the proposed legislation and some of my thoughts on it in my previous blog post. Here, I discuss it on radio and go into some detail that I did not mention in my blog post. This interview is essential listening for those who are unfamiliar with the issue.
You can listen to the radio interview on Friday, January 7, 2011 at 2:30PM on KPFA 94.1 or stream it live at www.kpfa.org. I will be on towards the end of the show. After it airs, it will go straight into the archives at http://kpfa.org/archive/show/33.
Below is the transcript of the interview.
You can read, listen and read, or listen, whichever works best for YOU!
Transcript from Pushing Limits' Show "Revising the ADA" Interview with Rhianon Gutierrez
Airdate: January 6, 2011, 2:30PM KPFA 94.1 FM
Raphaella: Every Christmas, my family wakes up, unwraps a few presents, and heads off for a walk to the movies. And although attending the movies has got to be one of the most social activities, the theaters are still inaccessible for many members of our communities including people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. As you heard earlier in the show, the Department of Justice is considering revising the ADA to regulate how accessible movie theaters are.
Just before the winter holiday, I met up with filmmaker, Rhianon Gutierrez. Rhianon is hard of hearing and I asked her about her experience going to the movies.
Rhianon: I love movies. I grew up wanting to be in the movies as an actress, you know, behind the camera... And, the nice thing about movies for any person with a hearing loss is that they're very visual, and often times, you know, there's a lot that you can get from the story just by the emotions and the movement and the pictures. But then, there's those fine details, like those words, those plot things that are revealed through dialogue that you just don't get. So, if you go with family or friends, they'll be filling in the blanks for you. That's what I do. I will watch the film and if I miss something that happened really fast, I will ask them imediately what happened there? "What did they just say?"
And it's really difficult with comedy because comedy relies so much on those punchlines and those really quick things that you just want to get in the moment. And sometimes you'll laugh with everyone else, but deep down inside it really hurts because you have no idea what's being said and you want to instantly experience that.
For animated films, it can be really difficult becasue they're not live action--you don't see their lips moving. I mean, they have like this feature of just going up and down and maybe just moving around a little bit but you're not gonna get it. As a child I saw a lot of animated movies. You know? I saw those Disney classics like Toy Story, Mulan...Oh what are some other good ones...Just all those films in the 90s that came out--I saw them in theaters. And I loved how they looked, but I'm pretty sure that there were...like I had no idea what they were saying and I don't want the next generation to have to go through that.
Raphaella: Right now, some theaters have different accessibility options, but none of them are clearly required. Rhianon outlined for me four different options for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing if they want to see movies with friends and family.
Rhianon: We want to be able to enjoy the movie-going experience and so either we'll just go without captions, but if we do go with captions, there are rear window captions that are avaialble which is like a little screen that you put into your cup holder so the captions appear as the movie plays. That's one option. Another option is subtitles. If you go to foreign language films that are not in English, then you will see the English captions up there. Now, the good thing about the subtitles is that the English is very clear, but you don't get the sound effects. So, for someone who has no type of hearing at all, when they see this film they're not gonna know about footsteps approaching or whatnot, like you would hear in horror movies. Another option: open captions which are like subtitles, but they also include sound effects. Open captions, I think, are not quite as common, so often times what many people with hearing loss will do is they will just wait because DVDs are so popular and Netflix, they will just wait for movies to come out, and they will just watch them at home.
Raphaella: The Department of Justice seems to be leaning towards requiring theaters to use rear window captions instead of open captions. As Rhianon explained, rear window captions require the moviegoer to request from the usher a small screen they insert near their cup holder. As they watch the movie, the captions appear on the little screen next to them.
Rhianon: I prefer open captions and it's just not practical at all to me. I don't want to look back and forth. I mean, I'm in classrooms watching non-captioned films often. You know, I am seeing the screen up there, then I look at the computer screen, I imagine the rear window captions almost the same experience. You know, it's just back and forth. I don't want that. I just want to look at the picture.
I was reading about having 3D IMAX experience with rear window captions. I've never personally experienced that, but I couldn't imagine the mixing of the rear window--with this little screen like right next to you--and having these things come out and wearing the glasses. That just does not seem very practical at all.
Raphaella: What about, like, having reserved seating in the theater because of where the captioning is and the best angle on it?
Rhianon: If we have open captions, we don't need reserved seating because it doesn't matter where you sit, you're gonna get those captions. Okay? If you have rear window, reserved seating will make more sense because just imagine being super close and having a screen right there by your cup holder. That would be one painful experience for your neck and your back and your head and your eyes--everything! So I think if you're doing rear window, reserved seating might help.
Raphaella: Would you have other things that you would tell somebody who said this takes away from the visual beauty of the film?
Rhianon: As a filmmaker, I mean, I don't want to have all this crap all over the picture, you know? I know there are a lot of filmmakers who probably think that too and you don't want to have all these distractions but I think that if captions are done well, and they're done in a very non-intrusive way, then you would see that it won't be quite as bad to have them there. Captions are bad when the color is wrong, when they're big, when they're over someone's mouth, or when they are misspelled (laughing), you know? If they're not spelled correctly, that's really embarrassing. So, I think that so many movies that we're seeing now you see the black bars, I mean, it's widescreen. And I think that it'll be really good if we would have those captions on the black bars on the bottom so we can see that and the picture will be up there. But there will be time we probably won't see the black bars, and then you'll just have the words on the picture. But I think you really have to be, like, very aware of, like, where you're putting them. Test screenings are necessary for that kind of thing.
Raphaella: If the Department of Justice decides to require any kind of captioning in movie theaters, they'll give the theaters time to make the switch. I asked Rhianon about the proposed plan.
Rhianon: They're proposing that they'll be 50% of films that will be captioned over a period of 5 years so that saying 10% per year. And my own point of view on that and the opinions of my friends who have hearing loss and also the organization which I'm involved with, the Hearing Loss Association of America, we don't think that's right at all. Because if we're talking about universal equality and inclusion and all that, I mean, having 50% is still saying...I mean, it's better than nothing, but it's not enough.
Raphaella: Filmmaker Rhianon Gutierrez' final thoughts.
Rhianon: If you like films, speak up about it. It's important to be vocal about this issue, because why should we be left out? I mean, that's silly.