Drive to incorporate subtitles in cinema, TV to aid deaf

Subtitles Now, a collaboration between two seemingly unrelated groups is calling for the inclusion of subtitles in all local cinemas and TV stations.

Still from a YouTube video promoting the Subtitles Now initiative.
Still from a YouTube video promoting the Subtitles Now initiative.

Joining together in a bid to raise awareness on the lack of subtitles in cinemas and on television programmes, the Deaf People Association has teamed up with art-cinema collective Kinemastik, in the hope that concrete steps will be taken to facilitate the introduction of subtitles across various media.

Asked whether subtitles rank highly on the list of needs for the deaf and hard of hearing, Deaf People Association President Steven Mulvaney said that far from being a superfluous matter, the benefits of subtitles can have a direct impact on how the deaf process the world around them on a daily basis.

"Imagine watching a film without the sound on. Would you understand? It's all about access to information. Think how much general knowledge you acquire through the television. News, talk shows, dramas, cooking programs and so on. With the exception of the five-minute 'Deaf News' in Maltese Sign Language, local TV is inaccessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Subtitles would provide a massive increase in the quality of life of deaf Maltese people and would also benefit language learners, elderly people losing their hearing... and people with noisy neighbours!"

Mulvaney also compared the situation in Malta to that abroad, describing how the UK, for example, provide subtitling across a wide variety of media.

"I was amazed to find that there were options for subtitles on every TV programme in my hotel room. Talk shows, films, sports programs, live news, soap operas, dramas and even cooking programs had the option of subtitles. There was even a sign language interpreter on the news and a deaf sign language using presenter working along side a hearing presenter on one of the children's channels. On top of that, all of the staff working on the reception in the hotel were able to use sign language. It was incredible," Mulvaney said.

Commenting on Kinemastik's involvement with the initiative, the NGO's representative Slavko Vukanovic described that Subtitles Now has been two years in the making.

"A couple of years ago, I came across this film that was referred to as the only feature film entirely done in sign language. The funny fact was that it was a vampire flick - titled 'Deafula'! Anyway, it made me think what is happening to deaf people around me and how could I contribute to make a small change for the better through our film activities," Vukanovic said, adding that "one of Kinemastik's aims is to encourage and support the under represented groups and minorities from all aspects of society."

Vukanovic also noted that while Kinemastik have organised screenings for deaf people in the past and that they aim on continuing to do so, the organisation is also considering the possibility of organising some related workshops on filmmaking.

"We are in contact with a number of Deaf Film Festivals, and hope to be able to send some Maltese people to these festivals. We would also like to bring over professionals from abroad to give film classes here. We believe that very soon, with the overwhelming support that we got for this project, we will be able to have closed captioning introduced in both local cinemas and on TV," Vukanovic added.

Subtitles Now is supported by Premju tal-President għall-Kreattivita. For more information log on to Deaf Malta's website.

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"To add insult to injury by adding subtitles which will either block off some of the carefully constructed images, or be somehow added below but still distracting the average viewer...no. That is not acceptable, not even in the name of Political Correctness" Ok Ken -- what if said visual film masterpiece was a foreign film - say, not in a language of your understanding. Would you then watch it in subtitles of your native language, say Maltese or English? This is not an issue of political correctness. This is an issue of access to information and getting up to speed with the rest of the world. Separate screenings or optional runs with closed captioning is acceptable, but the majority of your argument is thoughtless and verging on rude. Put yourself in someone else's place then re-evaluate your notion of acceptability.
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I agree that there should be possible subtitles for tv - but not for cinema. When one is watching a tv - generally privately - if one wants sub-titles, why not? But in a cinema where people have paid good money to hopefully see the film the way it was meant to be seen...no. It is bad enough that in Malta one has to be subjected to advertisements in the middle of the film... a total scandal and an utter lack of respect for the artistic process(If the Director had wanted an intermission, he would have made one himself!) To add insult to injury by adding subtitles which will either block off some of the carefully constructed images, or be somehow added below but still distracting the average viewer...no. That is not acceptable, not even in the name of Political Correctness. Perhaps there should be special screenings on special days with subtitles for the deaf... if not - well, perhaps there should be a special dispensation allowing deaf people to have free CD's of the movies. Then they can at least have the subtitles in the privacy of their own homes without disturbing the rest of the film audience.