05 January 2011

Why Captions Now: The Department of Justice and Movie Captioning

Why Captions Now?
© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez

Still from Black Swan (2010).  Fox Searchlight Pictures.

On December 14th, I saw Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan with my two friends at a theatre in San Francisco. We were celebrating our last week of the semester together at San Francisco State. The film was not captioned, but I still went because I really wanted to see the film. For the most part, my cochlear implant assisted me as I lipread Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, but the process was equally exhausting and nauseating without the captions. I had to ask my friends to clarify some details for me when the film was over. I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve long made the choice to pay to see films in theatres with or without captions because of my passion for film and my desire to socialize. I’ve gone to the movies less as I’ve gotten older and I’ve tried to restrict myself to foreign films because I know that they will have subtitles. 

As a child, I was drawn to the power of an actor’s expression and a film’s overall imagery. I’ve known that I wanted to be in film ever since I was three years old. Today, as a filmmaker, I love the collaborative process of filmmaking and I love seeing how my audience responds. I caption my films so that I can make them accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but even while my films have been accessible at film festivals, other films have not. As an advocate for captions, I speak about the benefits of captions not only for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, but for those who are learning English and those who are trying to improve their reading skills. I do this so that people can see the universal benefit of captions. I want to see the films of my peers, not struggle to appreciate and critique their work because I miss the intricacies of the dialogue or because I can’t see the film at all.  I should be able to watch a greater selection of quality captioned films, wherever and whenever. 

I write about captioning often, but I'm writing about it again because the issue of movie captioning is coming to light with the final Department of Justice hearings on January 10th in San Francisco. The rules are proposing that 50% of theatrical films will be captioned five years from now, with 10% per year over a period of five years. Is this acceptable? Why or why not? In considering our answers to this question, we must be realistic. Captions should be universal with so many technologies and resources that are out there. We have open captions, rear window captions, real time captions, and even iPhone caption apps. On their website, the Department of Justice is asking us to respond to 26 questions; the first question is about the 10% over five years. I urge you all to read the questions carefully and to respond to them as they have affected you or a person you know with a hearing loss. At minimum, respond to the first question, but be detailed. The next questions discuss captions in large theatre chains and smaller independent theatres; the amount of screens that offer captions; and the technologies and training required for operating the necessary equipment. I encourage you to be honest but to also be realistic. Frame your argument well and show the DOJ why captions should be universal.

I spoke on December 14th at a televised meeting of the San Francisco Mayor's Disability Council, which you can access with captions and ASL interpretation here.  My part begins at 57:00.  I was also interviewed by Raphaella Bennin of KPFA radio in Berkeley; the interview and transcript can be found at this link.

I love watching films as much as I love making them, but I appreciate films and the team behind them more so when they are made accessible with captions. I’m doing my part to let the DOJ know that captions matter to me.  I hope you will do the same.

Here's what you can do:

According to the DOJ, written comments must be postmarked and electronic comments must be submitted ON or BEFORE January 24, 2011.  Comments must be identified by RIN 1190–AA63 (or Docket ID No. 112).

To file comments electronically:
1. Check out the Fact Sheet about the Proposed Rule on Movie Captioning.
2. Click on www.regulations.gov.
3. Enter Docket ID: DOJ–CRT–0112 and click "Search".
4. Click on "View by Docket Folder".
5. Click on the little blue "Open Docket Folder" on the right of the orange title of the proposed rulemaking. 
6. Click on the blue title of the proposed rule to open the HTML version of the proposed rule with all the 26 questions lined out.
7. At the top of the page, you will see an orange bar saying "Submit a Comment". 

To file written comments via Regular U.S. mail:
Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 2885
Fairfax, VA 22031–0885

Overnight, courier, or hand delivery: 
Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice
1425 New York Avenue, N.W. Suite 4039
Washington, DC 20005

Attend the PUBLIC HEARING on January 10th, 2011:

Marriott Marquis
55 Fourth Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Time: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. PST.


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