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Film fan Charlotte says Aberdeen cinema’s BSL screenings should be inspiration to others

Charlotte Little at Belmont Cinema.

Visitors to an Aberdeen cinema will enjoy a screening with a difference when they take their seats today.

The Belmont Filmhouse will be staging the latest in its series of BSL screenings, with heartbreaking Oscar-winner The Father being shown with captions on the screen.

What’s more, there will be an interpreter in the foyer to assist deaf customers.

And now, Aberdeen graduate and devoted film fan Charlotte Little is urging larger cinema chains to take note and follow the independent picturehouse’s example.

Calls for others to take heed

Charlotte, who is hard of hearing and visually impaired, reckons the Belmont cinema is one of the only facilities which properly considers the needs of deaf movie goers.

The 23-year-old is now demanding that major chains – including those in Aberdeen – dedicate themselves to improving access.

She has teamed up with local charity North East Sensory Services (NESS) to highlight the needs of blind and deaf people within the arts sector.

“Belmont is fantastic – they regularly put on films with captions, and you feel like they really take the needs of people like me seriously when it comes to films,” she said.

“If a small, independent cinema like that can do it, so can the larger chains which have movie theatres in every part of the country.”

The Belmont as it was getting ready to reopen in May. Picture by Kenny Elrick

Star Wars screening sparked passion

After graduating in law, Charlotte started up her own business advising companies on how to improve access for deaf and disabled people.

She has Usher Syndrome Type 2, which causes deafness and gradual tunnel vision, and works as a freelance access consultant while campaigning for inclusive cinema experiences.

A chance captioned screening in Aberdeen five years ago led to her passion for improved cinema access.

“I was 17 and went to watch the latest Star Wars movie,” she said.

“Previously, I’d always have to sit right beside the speakers, or concentrate really, really hard to work out what was going on.

“But this screening had captions, and it changed everything for me – I couldn’t believe it.

“Suddenly I was able to fully participate in conversations about the film, the punchlines, the plot holes. I didn’t even know captioned showings were a thing.”

‘Loads to be made from captioned screenings’

She added that while major chains occasionally provide captioned films, they are often poorly promoted and at awkward times.

Charlotte said: “They put them on in the mornings or right after the working day finishes and completely fail to promote them, then wonder why nobody turns up.

“It’s like anything else, you only get back from it what you put in.

“But putting the morals of it aside, there’s loads to be made from captioned screenings.

“There’s something like one in six people who have some kind of hearing loss, so it’s a huge potential market.”

‘Big chains fear change’

She added: “And I know that it’s not just people who are deaf who like subtitles.

“More and more people are watching films or shows with subtitles, especially those who use Netflix.

“I think the big chains are scared of change – they think putting on more of these captioned showings will lose them money.

“Captioned showings are becoming more popular, and the right marketing and outreach will contribute massively.

“It shouldn’t be so hard for deaf or disabled people to go to the movies.

“These chains should look at what the Belmont have done and learn from that.”

‘Everyone should be able to enjoy our films’

Colin Farquhar, head of cinema operations at Belmont Filmhouse. Picture by Kenny Elrick 13/05/2021

Colin Farquhar, head of cinema operations at Belmont Filmhouse, is working hard to make sure as many people as possible feel welcome at the city centre venue.

Colin said: “It’s really important to us to be able to bring great cinema to as many people as we can and we’re always trying to make sure we’re as accessible as possible – everyone should be able to enjoy our films.

“Last year we improved our audio description equipment and we’re putting on more captioned screenings than ever.

“We’re also beginning BSL supported screenings on Sundays, where an interpreter is present to assist deaf customers in the foyer.

“It’s really exciting and we know we’ll be looking to organisations like NESS and supporters like Charlotte to guide us as we develop that programme.”

Graham Findlay, chief executive of North East Sensory Services, said: “People who are visually impaired deserve to enjoy the cinema experience in the same way as everyone else.

“The Belmont in Aberdeen is a fantastic example of how things should be done, and larger chains can learn from that and follow their lead.

“Charlotte is a brilliant campaigner and her hard work is making a real difference for blind and deaf people when it comes to access to the arts industry.”

COMING SOON: Seven of the best independent cinemas in the north and north-east for the ultimate big screen experience

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