Attending movies hasn't been a satisfying venture for the hearing impaired,
but this is changing in Berkeley, thanks to the advent of open
The hearing impaired can feel frustrated and
left out when they can't appreciate new releases that are commanding
the nation's attention.
Organizations like DEAF Media in
Berkeley are seeking to open the world a little to the hearing
impaired by promoting open-captioned movies. Open captions are
equivalent to subtitles in foreign films, but they also include
nonvisual cues, like a phone ringing or a baby crying.
Open-captioned movies in Berkeley have been shown at Shattuck
Cinemas at noon on the second Saturday of every month since
February. Starting this month, the movies won't have a consistent
schedule, but now hearing-impaired moviegoers will be able to
have their choice of a day or evening showing.
Shattuck Cinemas is part of Landmark Theaters, a company that gained
experience with captioned films in Palo Alto and was willing
to try it in Berkeley.
Open captioned movies have been
shown in Palo Alto since 1996 with the help of Deaf Education
and Access Foundation (DEAF).
DEAF is a Palo Alto-based
nonprofit group that works to advance educational access for
The first open-captioned movie shown in Palo
Alto was ``Mission Impossible.''
Barbara Baer, treasurer
of the organization, said, ``(It) was the perfect title for
us as we are trying to find the impossible to get all the technology
we can get to make our lives easier as hearing-impaired persons,
and we should be able to do the same things that the majority
of the world is able to do.''
DEAF Media and DEAF are not
related, but share a common mission. DEAF Media is also a nonprofit
organization that works on national advocacy and it was DEAF
Media's Executive Director Susan Rutherford who approached Nancy
Klubben, local manager of Landmark Theaters, to ask about using
the theater for open-captioned movies.
There was no opposition. ``Everybody really wanted it to happen,'' Klubben
Rutherford said, ``Having a resolution from the Berkeley City Council and
the Council on Disability didn't hurt either. This is a win-win for the
theater and for the Berkeley community.''
Under the old system, the hearing-impaired regulars complained about
movies being shown once at noon. They wanted to be able to see movies at
night as well.
Klubben had said that the movies could not be shown during the evening
because film distributors for other movies wouldn't allow their shows
canceled for an open-captioned one. The Saturday noon showing had been one
of the few available times that didn't conflict with the distributors'
But now, Rutherford said, a system has been worked out to allow a day and
evening showing. ``The show times will not be known until a week before,''
she said. ``Show times generally are a matinee around 1 p.m. and an evening
show around 7 p.m. The times vary depending on how long the film is.''
Hearing-impaired people still have fewer movie choices. Traditionally,
the movies were ordered through Tripod Captioned Films, a nonprofit program
in Burbank. Nancy Linke-Ellis, co-founder of Tripod, selected the films
based on studios' predictions.
Katherine Cooley, 24, a marketing assistant and herself a regular, said,
``I think Tripod tries to pick popular films, but oftentimes the films that
really need captioning (The English Patient) are the ones that never get
Other moviegoers echo the complaint. Penny Atlee, 58, bookkeeper, said,
``I do resent having others choose for us.''
``The objective is to get as current a release of a popular film that
everyone would like to see,'' Rutherford said.
Some studios have begun to come onboard and release open-
captioned movies directly. As this trend grows, the hearing impaired will
have the freedom to choose more than one movie.
The average attendance at open-
captioned movies is 120, according to Klubben.
Supporters intend to increase participation.
``Reaching the deaf and hard-of-
hearing patron who isn't online, not a member of a group or mailing list,
and isn't aware of deaf services in general is the biggest challenge of
all,'' Linke-Ellis said.
She wants people to understand that this is a transitional year, as
efforts are under way to improve the market by the organizations involved,
such as Tripod and the studios.
``This is about treating us like the considerable consumer group that we
are -- 30 million people affected by hearing loss who have never been to the
movies or stopped going because it became too tough to enjoy,'' she said.
``Rush Hour'' will be shown Tuesday and Wednesday at Shattuck Avenue
Cinemas, 2220 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
Check www.tripod.org for open-captioned films throughout the nation.