Back in August, my Mum came from Bristol to Cornwall to visit me for a couple of days. We fancied the cinema, but the only subtitled screening in the entire county that night was The BFG. It was on late, starting after 9pm, and it wouldn’t have been our first choice but we really wanted popcorn and to be out of the rain. We drove the half an hour to the cinema, treated ourselves to a nice dinner in a nearby restaurant and went to get our tickets.
I’d initially checked on the cinema’s website that the film was subtitled, on the yourlocalcinema website to doublecheck and at the cinema when we bought the tickets, you know, just to be triply sure. At the counter my Mum discovered her CEA card (a card that means you can have a free carer with you if you have a disability) was out of date, but since she had a new one on the way, the manager let us use it. The manager knew we were there, he met us and spoke to us.
We took our seats, watched the trailers, ate all the chocolate. It’s dark in the cinema remember, so no chatting for us. You need to be able to see to sign. When the film started, the subtitles weren’t playing. No subtitles but plenty of music and dialogue that my Mum couldn’t engage with at all. After about a minute, I popped out to the counter, mentioned it to a member of staff who said they’d tell the manager and get it all sorted. Lovely. So far, so good. Just a small blip.
When the manager came in to speak to us, I thought he was coming to tell us that the subtitles would be on in a sec. He wasn’t. He was coming to tell us that he wouldn’t be playing the subtitles. Now, remember that my Mum and I can’t chat during the trailers because it’s too dark? She also can’t lipread total strangers in the dark, which is where the manager insisted on talking to us. Wouldn’t you love to be one of the other cinema goers in that sold out showing?
I suggested we pop out to the foyer so we didn’t annoy the other people in the screen, but also so my Mum could have some chance of being part of the conversation. Kasio (the manager) offered the following logic
- He’d need to stop the film in order to load the right file. It turns out that you can’t just press a button like you do on a DVD, you need to load up a whole separate file. It takes minutes, but you would need to interrupt the film. For minutes. My offer to explain to the rest of the cinema, with my Mum’s permission, was declined by Kasio.
- He was playing the correct film. Well Kasio, you weren’t. Simple as, you weren’t.
- He absolutely was playing the correct film. Yes Kasio, you are playing the BFG. I’ll give you that. But you advertised a subtitled version of the BFG, which you are not playing, and while your offer to let us stay and watch the version without subtitles is misguided but intended to be kind, we can’t stay because my Mum can only access the correct film. The one with subtitles.
Obviously, we got our money back and some spare free cinema tickets. But they were tickets that we couldn’t use together. My Mum was off home two days after this incident, but there weren’t any subtitled showings of any film in Cornwall before she left.
And so, here we are. In 2016, people with hearing loss, deafness or people who struggle with accents, have difficulties processing verbal information, who don’t have English as their first language are struggling to access the cinema. I love the cinema, I’m in the privileged position of hardly needing to think about anything more than what film I’d like to see and whether there are tickets available. But, I can’t just pop to the cinema with my Mum on a whim. And that’s rubbish.
So I’m going to change it.