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French cinema finds way for deaf and hearing viewers to share films

Cinémarine in Vendée say the special subtitles are not as intrusive as classic subtitles so hearing and deaf audiences can enjoy the same screening

Cinémarine manager, Yann Legargeant, stood outside cinema

Cinémarine manager, Yann Legargeant, says “It is a practical way of including everyone” Pic: Yann Legargeant

A cinema showing specially subtitled films to help the deaf and hard of hearing is enjoying huge success.

Cinémarine in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in Vendée, western France, started the screenings at least once a week in 2020 after being approached by a local deaf association.

The cinema’s manager Yann Legargeant told The Connexion: “The subtitles appear on the screen next to the person speaking, and there is a colour-coded system to help understand what is happening beyond the dialogue.

“For example, yellow text appears when a person speaks off-screen, and purple indicates music. The genre of music is also specified.

“They are not big and intrusive like classic subtitles, and after a few minutes people who are not looking for them do not notice them at all.”

The association decides which films should be shown in the peak movie-going Friday night slot.

“They like to see the same blockbusters as everyone else – Spiderman was a huge success and the new Death on the Nile,” said Mr Legargeant.

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He said 95% of films delivered to cinemas in digital format since 2007 have the special subtitles, called SME  (for sourds et malentendants), in French coded into them. 

Enabling the subtitles is “as simple as a mouse click”.

“We have people who drive from Nantes, an hour-and-a-half away, to come to the SME screenings,” he said.

“What we have found, too, is that people who are not deaf watch them as well. I have asked about the experience afterwards and they all say they quickly just stopped seeing the SME titles. The brain adjusts.”

Following the success of the initiative, Mr Legargeant hopes it will be taken up elsewhere.

“It is a practical way of including everyone into society, something I think is important.”

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