Visible Cinema

Next in our series of profile pieces related to our Equality Matters survey we speak to Jodie Wilkinson, Public Engagement Coordinator at Glasgow Film, to find out more about Visible Cinema and other elements of the access programme at GFT including Autism friendly screenings.

Visible Cinema is a monthly Film Club for deaf and hard of hearing audiences held at Glasgow Film Theatre. The first initiative of its kind in Scotland, Visible Cinema launched in March 2015 and has been growing in popularity ever since.

Amy Cheskin (BSL interpreter), Karen Forbes (formerly of Solar Bear), Dawn Ross (previous GFF Public Engagement Co-ordinator) and Uzma Mir Young (Glasgow Film Board Member)

Tell us what a Visible Cinema film club screening is like?

Visible Cinema is our deaf and hard of hearing monthly film club, a partnership with Solar Bear and Film Hub Scotland and pilot funded by Creative Scotland. Our access programme sees us show a number of subtitled, captioned and audio described films throughout the month, but Visible Cinema is our elevated event within the programme.

Screenings begin with the audience being provided with a leaflet with Plain English copy of the film’s description on one side (as often British Sign Language (BSL) users first language is BSL, not English) and a list of all the other captioned screenings showing that month on the other side. I’ll then get the evening started by introducing the film and reminding everyone about the context of Visible Cinema. The event incorporates BSL interpretation and Speech To Text Reporting (STTR) - live typing of the dialogue on screen for anyone who require speech to visual.

The real heart of Visible Cinema is in our post-film discussions led by an expert guest speaker. For January’s Film Club, we screened ‘Joy’ – the story of Joy Mangano the inventor of the miracle mop. Following the screening we had a really interesting provocation from our guest speaker Allison MacLeod, Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. She spoke with BSL interpretation and STTR, picking out themes of feminism, gender representation and sexual politics in the workplace that resulted in a really fascinating and lively audience discussion.

During the discussions people contribute verbally or by using BSL, and as we have the interpreters and STTR then we know everyone in the audience can engage. And I’ll rove around with a microphone to catch those who want to contribute which I think adds a lot of energy to the conversation, and encourages more people to share their thoughts.

At the end of the open discussion if people want to continue chatting they are welcome to head upstairs to the bar, and it’s always great to see people so eager to keep the conversation going.  It’s an event I always look forward to it and I really love being part of because it’s intrinsically inclusive and is all about people coming together through their love of film and in its execution opens up a connection regardless of whether you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing or hearing.

What are some of the reactions you’ve had from audiences?

We’re very aware it’s still our pilot year, so we’re always honest about the fact that we’re still learning. When we’ve not been able to provide a STTR (whether due to financing or simply as there aren’t that many in Scotland), feedback has reflected that this is a real loss as it means that although the film is still accessible due to the combination of BSL interpretation and captioning – the post film discussion isn’t.

On the whole though we have had such a wealth of positive responses. Many comment on it being a really wonderful deaf culture experience that opens up the opportunity for everyone to critique film. And we have a contingent of Visible Cinema goers who come along to do exactly that, they may already have seen the film but want to join in the conversation afterwards.

We had a lovely comment from the January event from someone who is hearing who said they had a moment during the post film discussion when they just thought to themselves “I feel like maybe that's what going to the cinema will be like in the utopian future I dream of! Everyone has a voice allowing for an interesting open discussion.”

It’s so useful to know that what we’re providing is really resonating with people, and not just with deaf or hard of hearing audiences but with hearing ones too. So it’s not a restricted community, everyone can be involved.

What was challenging at first was the thought of bringing together what can be two quite disparate audiences, the deaf, the hard of hearing and Solar Bear have really been instrumental in ensuring we’re able to provide for both cohesively.

And something that’s always really lovely about Visible Cinema audiences is just the sheer mix of people we see coming - young people, older people, families, friends – who all seem to get so much out of it!

Audience at Visible Cinema launch 

What about Autism Friendly screenings, how are these run?

We run these in collaboration with Scottish Autism provide a theme each quarter, and then all of the films we screen are based around that theme. In terms of practically how these run, it’s a very similar set up to Visible Cinema but in this case our guest speakers are facilitators from Scottish Autism. 

What I try to be conscious of as a programmer is to avoid films that might be more stereotypically assumed to be access films, as I think there can be a tendency to assume that Autism Friendly automatically makes it a club for younger people.

So we’ve started the year with a really lovely theme of ‘New Beginnings’, which we kicked off in January with ‘Stand By Me’.

We also recently hosted a very exciting event with Rory Hoy whose film ‘Autism and Me’ is a short dive into his perspective of living with autism, which was followed with a Q&A session with Rory and then a Q&A session with his mum, Geraldine. We structured it this way as we knew that there might be a lot of audience members living with autism who would want to chat to Rory but equally we tend to have people attending who are family members, teachers, carers and people who work in additional support needs contexts and they want to meet and share their experiences in a relaxed environment.

Then afterwards we headed to Project Café where Rory, who is also a music producer, performed a DJ set. And we did all this in the space of two hours! Keeping the event to a structure is really important to our audience and so we make sure in programming that we keep it to a Tuesday evening, running 6-8pm but in terms but in terms of the content we’re always looking to experiment and take on suggestions from our audience of new things they’d like to see happen. We know it’s about so much more than just film, it’s about socialisation and promoting health, wellbeing and as we’ve learnt from this event, providing aspirational role models.

An Evening with Rory Hoy from Geraldine Heaney on Vimeo.

How popular have these proven and what feedback have you had?

The feedback always been positive, and I think people really appreciate that we don’t just pick our quietest slot and package that up as our Autism Friendly screenings. It’s so important that we’re forward thinking and we’re not demeaning our audiences by making the only slot specifically targeted to them at a time where no one else goes to the cinema! I think that can something you see elsewhere, and I think what’s so key for us it that it’s really not about the money.  We offer a subsided price for the screenings because we really don’t believe money should be a barrier, and as we accept CEA card this ensures a complimentary ticket for someone who wishes to be accompanied.

What does increasing and prioritising accessibility mean to Glasgow Film?

As a sector, we absolutely need the lens of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion to look through. It’s a real necessity across the entire creative sphere that we’re acknowledging the diversity and breadth of talent and skill in the various creative industry sector. If we’re talking about wanting to see more deaf performers and actors in the industry then we need to be training them, and I think the rise of the BA BSL and English Performance course at the RCS is a great example of this.

And the parallels can be drawn with us as a cinema, we want to be able to look to the industry and say we are programming from a rich diversity of film that is a true representation of our society and be proud that we are collaborating with makers and creaters from a wide breadth of backgrounds and abilities. What we’re trying to do with our programme and events is to really push out and offer real cultural diversity because we know that there’s so much to gain from it, and that audiences can take away so much more.

I really believe it’s our duty as a cinema, and my duty as a programmer to be responding to that changing fabric because if we’re not providing events that are really resonating with or challenging our audience then we’re not doing our jobs properly. We are developing a guide to illustrate our Visible Cinema journey to other cinemas, not tell them how to run their events per-se as every venue is different but just to highlight what is to gain from putting the work in to providing an accessible, responsive venue and programme.

One of my biggest lessons in the role so far, your audience is always the key. They are the experts, and they can tell us what they want or don’t want and it’s in our hands to try and respond in the best way we can.

Photo credit: Neil Thomas Douglas.

Find out more about Visible Cinema and check out Accessible screenings at GFT.

Equality Matters

Creative Scotland is calling on Scotland’s Film and TV professionals to take part in a wide-ranging screen equalities survey, to inform our understanding of issues of under-representation. The findings will help us to address these issues through positive action, going forward. The survey opened on Wednesday 10 February and will close on 7 March. Take part in the survey.

This article was published on 23 Feb 2016