10 December 2011

Why I Gave In

Why I Gave In: On Using Closed Captioning Devices in Theatres
© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez
December 9, 2011

Tonight, I gave in and finally tried the latest in closed captioning movie theatre technology, CaptiView, to see the film "New Years Eve". I knew that I had to have captions to enjoy the film because it had so many characters in it. I enjoy ensemble films but I have not actually seen one in a movie theatre. I'm glad that I chose to use CaptiView because it gave me access to so many funny lines that I would have missed otherwise. But that is not the major reason why I'm glad that I used it.

My viewing experiences have usually been captions or subtitles on the picture or no captions at all. I have preferred not to use rear window captioning for various reasons, the main one being that it practically screams, "Deaf person here!" With open captions or subtitles, you don't need to worry about that. You're just an audience member. When I watch films, I am an audience member who wants to blend in with the rest of the audience and participate. The first film that I saw with subtitles was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2000. I was so excited to see subtitles on the movie screen that I think I may have cried when the film started.

I grew up wanting to be in the movies, then wanting to make movies. I never thought about accessibility in theatres. I loved images and how they made me feel, think, and experience humanity. I did not need words to understand emotion. I enjoyed watching animated films in theatres with my friends because it was about community and imagination. We recreated the animated worlds in our living rooms and backyards and made our own dialogue. At home, I read numerous books and watched captioned television and live action movies. I was happy.

When I went to film school, I encountered a level of exclusion that I had never before felt in my life. I was not only feeling shut out from my peers, but I felt shut out from technology. I faced a battle in college: I used real-time captionists in my classes but still struggled to get my teachers to make sure the films they chose were captioned or were going to get captioned by an outside vendor. Forget it if student films were captioned, including mine! Deadlines needed to be met and college students epitomized the spirit of procrastination. I watched many films with my eyes closed, even the good ones. I was exhausted and probably depressed. My friends couldn't believe I slept through even the foreign films.

When you use captions, you read a lot. Skilled caption users read super fast and still take in the beauty of the image. I want to experience the beauty and the words. Those beautiful, funny, tragic, and shocking words.

As a filmmaker, I naturally have aesthetic preferences. There are certain films that I like - independent, art house, foreign, and documentary - and three of these four are usually not captioned. My routine has been to make sure that I have enough sugar, caffeine, and brainpower to watch these films (and sometimes I research them beforehand). I usually bring a hearing buddy with me to poke when I have questions. My mother, best friend, and boyfriend are the fastest translators for me, but I've come to rely on them less and on my eyes and cochlear implant more. I usually say "no" to comedies and action films because there's too many sounds and quick lines that I miss.

I share my story because it's important to know where I come from. Today, I support accessible media and work to make media accessible as a filmmaker and advocate. I have high expectations for captions - the color, placement, timing, word choice, spacing, punctuation, and grammar - and why shouldn't I? I strongly believe in quality captioning that informs and/or enhances the viewing experience rather than distracts from it.

CaptiView is a small black box with a bendy arm and a lower metal part that swivels to enable you to position it in either one of your cup holders. You can set the box to where you want to view it. The box is about six inches wide and maybe three inches tall and has small corners around the words (which are about size eighteen font and the color of traffic light green) so that others around you cannot view them.

What I liked about using CaptiView was that it allowed me to sit wherever I wanted in the theatre and position the device in the place that was most comfortable for me. Because I have used captions for at least twenty years, I was able to make it a seamless experience to look up and down at the picture and words when I needed to do so. It was also easy to set up - I only had to turn it on, push the "A" button to select the auditorium I was in, and then push the "C" button to turn on the captions. They captioned the music, sound effects, and dialogue. I stayed awake the entire time, but maybe the bag of candy I ate had something to do with that, too!

The negative part of using CaptiView was that I had to use my hand and leg to hold the metal part in place because it would swing towards me if I did not. There were also some words missing from the dialogue, but this might not be true for everyone. I was able to follow the film and enjoy it but a large part of me felt anxious about distracting the people behind me with how much I was moving the device around. I'd like an anxiety-free viewing experience!

Overall, I'm glad that I used CaptiView and I see it as a progress in closed captioning in theatres. I know that we have come a long way, and I'm grateful for those who have developed and continue to develop technologies to make moviegoing a more accessible experience for the widest range of people. I'm grateful that I have support from so many of my deaf and hard of hearing friends. I'm still going to advocate for even better technologies that make the cinematic experience more universally accessible and enjoyable. Stay tuned!

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