Articles, Blog

Cinema for the blind: Ewa Marcinek at TEDxWroclaw


Translator: Joanna Pietrulewicz
Reviewer: Capa Girl Hello. My name is Ewa Marcinek and I would like to tell you a story
about the cinema for the blind. This expression, cinema for the blind, can be associated
with another enclosed space. Another ghetto for disabled people. And this is exactly the situation
we would like to avoid. In our opinion,
cinema should be a meeting place. I mean the universal,
multidimensional meaning of the word. A meeting as a shared contact
on equal terms. It’s also a meeting
of two different worlds. People able to experience images and people without this ability. From the beginning,
it became clear for us that this division is very apparent. The division between people
able and unable to experience images. And — We believe
that thanks to the magic of the cinema such an experience
can become something extraordinary, even something mystical. And the question was:
What is disability? And we knew that the whole idea
of disability will be tested and it will be transformed
with the confrontation of reality. My today’s talk
is related to the cinema. So we thought that the story
we wanted to tell you, the story about the cinema for the blind, could be narrated
in their own dramatic structure. A screenplay structure. So, it’s now time for act one:
Introduction. Every story has its beginning. For us it was the first contact
with the subject of audio description. As a cultural institution we took part
in a conference in Warsaw devoted to the question: How to help blind people
and expand their access to culture? At this meeting in Warsaw
we met two people, Basia and Tomek, with whom we cooperate
until today. Basia and Tomek are involved
in the popularization of audio description. They travel around the country, teaching and talking
about audio description. And they both are blind. So, they are very brave. They travel alone and everything they can count on
is human kindness. After meeting Basia and Tomek
we just wanted to know whether our concept of the cinema
for the blind will succeed at all and where it will lead us. So now it’s time for act two:
Rising action. It was time for ан effective action for us. We already knew what we wanted
and how to do it. First, we didn’t want the cinema
only for the blind. The priority for us was integration. We believed that integration
is the most important thing in this meeting in the cinema. And second,
we knew that we had a problem, because audio description
can become something like invasion in the comfort
of the audience’s reception. For sighted people
audio description can become something like an unwanted guest,
who appeared uninvited and destroyed
their relaxing time in the cinema. So the only way to provide comfort
to all participants of the film projection was a “camouflage” audio description. If you know something
about audio description, you know that this technique
is to describe everything. Lector, based on previously
prepared scripts, describes everything. From general to specific,
without judging or evaluating. And now I will explain to you
how it works, the audio description. So, in the cinema there is a lector,
who is located in a soundproof room. And in the audience
people have headphones with IR receivers or radio receivers, it doesn’t matter. So during the live projection
the lector reads the text, the audio script, and the lector’s voice
provides to the audience, without disturbing the rest of the people. So —
Sorry — Until this day we have managed
to show only one film. On DVD. It was our great success,
I must say. Because creating an audio description
is a very tedious and time-consuming job. But I was talking
about these technical requirements. But it’s not really a problem. In our story
it was just a basic conflict followed by subsequent various problems, obstacles and risks that frustrated
our attempt to reach the goal. The first real big complication appeared between us and film distributors. Because in Poland
audio description is something very new. So it’s also
very problematic for lawyers, for law,
also for copyrights problems. So in Poland there are
not enough legal regulations to provide audio description. There is not enough earning standards and not enough procedures. Not enough verification. The verification system is not — not as it should be. And the most important: the audio description
is not something like standardization. It’s not standardized. And as I suggested earlier, it was pretty hard to convince
the sighted part of the audience that they’re dealing with a normal film. Not a strange kind of film for the disabled, not a really different kind of film
for blind people. Those who risked and participated
in our film projection weren’t disappointed at all. They were grateful. And just before
the third act will take place, I must admit that — that we betrayed
the classic screenplay structure. We never succumbed to despair. It’s that moment in the story, when the weakness prevails
over the faith in success and the goal seems unattainable. And now I will explain
how it works for us as an organizer. It’s easy. If you want to go to a film premiere, you simply buy a ticket to the cinema. A blind person
doesn’t have this possibility. Doesn’t have this possibility. And if you are an organizer, even if you have found a cinema,
which has necessary equipment, like headphones,
like IR or radio receivers, like a special soundproof room
for the lector, even if you have found that and even if you have found a lector, who will read the text
during live projection, and even if you have found
an experienced — I mean, very experienced person,
who will make a script for the film, even if you have found
these three elements, you still need to wait
at least six months for the first DVD release. Because, as I said earlier, creating audio description
is a very tedious and time-consuming job. It can only work with DVD copy. And think about that: What about the films
that will never appear on DVD at all? The blind people
won’t experience them at all. So, in short, the blind people do not have access
to current cinema repertoire at all. And the blind people do not have access
to complete film heritage. And the next complication
was surprising for us. Because it turned out
that most blind people in Poland have no idea what audio description is
and how it works. And it’s now time for act three:
Climax. After a few projections we began to receive
first phone calls with questions: “When do you plan to do another projection
with audio description?” It was a great feeling for us. First major sign
that our projections are popular and our viewers
began to inform each other. And I must say that very important for us
was the next sign. Because our viewers
came outside of Wrocław. And they cover over 150 miles one way to spend only two hours in the cinema. I must repeat that, because 150 miles one way,
to spend only two hours in the cinema, it shows how important
the cinema and the film is for them. For the first signs that our work was good
we waited almost a year. But now we know it was worth it. And — We host visitors from different parts
of Lower Silesia in our cinema. Also we have more friends,
more allies, people, for whom audio description
is a great passion. And in the end,
for the screenplay writer, the most important
is to find the balance. And it’s also our goal. For us, in our story, balance can be substituted
by another word. Oh, sorry. Balance and harmony can be substituted
with another word: standardization. And it’s all we are fighting for. Standardization. It’s the way to provide audio description as a normality
to our life and our culture. And the thing we are talking about is that it should be legal,
social and cultural standardization and thinking about audio description
as a normality. And standardization provides
equal access to cultural heritage. Thank you.
(Applause) But today with me,
also in the audience, is Marek Kotula,
whom I would like to introduce. Marek, please stand up. (Applause) Because he is one
of the most involved people in Wrocław in creation of the cinema for the blind. He is an author of the scripts, he invites people to our center to show them how audio description works and to give them this opportunity
to watch audio description. And also last week —
He’s also a lector in our cinema. So, last week he made first
audio description for a theater production. So, thanks to people like Marek
we can really change this situation. Thank you, Marek. (Applause)

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