'Talking movies': The Chinese cinema bringing film to blind audiences

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, May 25, 2024

'Talking movies': The Chinese cinema bringing film to blind audiences
This photo taken on August 7, 2021 shows a visually impaired man listening to his phone at a cinema in Beijing. Dozens of blind moviegoers come to the Saturday screenings organised by Xin Mu Theater, a small group of volunteers who were the first to introduce films to blind audiences in China. Jade GAO / AFP.

by Poornima Weerasekara and Danni Zhu

BEIJING (AFP).- Every Saturday, Zhang Xinsheng travels two hours for a movie date with friends, navigating Beijing's confusing subway system with his white cane and a speaking map that screams directions on his mobile phone.

Zhang lost his sight in his early twenties due to a degenerative condition, but since going blind has discovered a love for cinema at the "talking film" club, where volunteers give vivid narrations to an auditorium of blind or partially sighted cinemagoers.

"After I listened to a film for the first time in 2014, it felt like a (new) world had opened up for me," he said.

"I felt I could understand the film despite my blindness. There were clear images forming in my mind's eye... as (the narrator) described the scenes... of laughter, the crying."

Now 51, he makes the weekly pilgrimage to a theatre in Qianmen, in the heart of old Beijing, without fail.

Dozens of blind moviegoers come to the Saturday screenings organised by Xin Mu Theater, a small group of volunteers who were the first to introduce films to blind audiences in China.

Their method is surprisingly low-tech. A narrator describes what is happening on screen, including facial expressions, unspoken gestures, the setting and costumes.

They relay visual clues that would otherwise be missed, like a sudden change of scenery from falling leaves to snow that conveys the passage of time.

Last month the group screened "A Street Cat Named Bob" -- a story of a ginger feline who helps a homeless man in London quit drugs and become a bestselling author.

Narrator Wang Weili described what is happening on-screen:

"There is snow falling over London, a city in England. It's a little like Beijing but the buildings aren't that tall," he says in between the dialogue dubbed in Chinese.

"A man with binoculars -- two long round cylinders used to see things that are far -- is watching James as he sings on a street corner with Bob the cat."

There was pin-drop silence as he spoke. No one whispered or crunched snacks -- instead, the audience listened intently.

'Tell me what you see'

Wang was inspired to introduce films to blind audiences after narrating "The Terminator" to a friend.

"I saw sweat pouring from his forehead when I described the action scenes. He was so excited," he said. "He kept saying tell me what you see!"

Wang rented a small room in an old Beijing courtyard with his savings in 2005 and started the talking film club with a small flat-screen TV, a second-hand DVD player and about 20 chairs.

His 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) makeshift cinema was always packed.

Explaining films to blind audiences can be challenging, especially if the plot has historical or imaginary elements that audience members are yet to encounter.

Before screening "Jurassic Park" for instance, Wang lets the audience feel several dinosaur models.

"I watch a film at least six or seven times... and write my own detailed script," the businessman-turned-disability activist said.

Xin Mu now partners with bigger cinemas for their screenings. The pandemic has also pushed the team to introduce a streaming service with recorded audio narrations.

The group has screened nearly a thousand films over the past 15 years.

'Limited opportunities'

China has more than 17 million people who are visually impaired. Eight million of them are completely sightless, according to The China Association for the Blind.

Over the past decade, cities across the country have built more blind walkways, added braille markings on elevator panels and allowed blind candidates to take exams for government jobs and colleges.

"But the blind community have limited opportunities to participate in cultural activities," said Dawning Leung, Founder of the Audio Description Association in Hong Kong.

"They are shut out of cinemas, theatres or art exhibitions because there is no awareness about the need for audio narrations."

"Even audio descriptions at museums are written with sighted people in mind. They tell you about the history of an object or where it was found but rarely describe what it looks like," she said.

Activists have for years pushed for legislation mandating audio descriptions for films, television programs or artwork in mainland China, like those in Hong Kong, with little progress.

The free film screenings by Xin Mu offer a rare chance for blind moviegoers to be part of the world's biggest box office.

"Movies help enrich my life... they help me understand life's challenges," Zhang said.

His favourite film is Bollywood blockbuster "Dangal," where a strict dad coaches his daughters to overcome social taboos and become champion wrestlers.

"At times I think, just like the protagonists in that film, I can change my fate by working hard," he said.

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

September 1, 2021

Bank of England removes art of leaders linked to slave trade

Asia Week New York announces new Chairman

Russia's Hermitage to sell digital art as NFT tokens

Galerie Marian Goodman opens an exhibition of works by Lothar Baumgarten

Michael Namingha presents altered perspectives of western landscapes from climate change in solo show

Reynolda launches new comprehensive website

National Pavilion UAE wins Golden Lion Award for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale

The Warhol appoints Tyler Shine as Assistant Curator of Art

Frost Art Museum FIU opens "Leonardo Drew: Cycles"

Thaddaeus Ropac opens an exhibition of works by Andreas Slominski

New, large-scale outdoor installations showcase Houston artists

Artist's first presentation in Boston features a new body of work

Galerie Krinzinger opens its first solo show of works by Monica Bonvicini

New work by artist duo Goldschmied & Chiari debuts at Cody Gallery at Marymount University

Art on Paper returns in September for highly anticipated seventh edition

Tolarno Galleries announces representation of Georgia Spain

The Powerhouse announces the program for Sydney Design Week 2021

American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center opens fall exhibitions

Clarke Auction Gallery to hold Estates Auction Sept. 12

'Talking movies': The Chinese cinema bringing film to blind audiences

Apple plans classical music app with buy of Primephonic

Kenny Malone, premier drummer for top Nashville names, dies at 83

Nia DaCosta on 'Candyman' and the power of terrifying legends

Items from the estates of Jimmy Musselman and Onesia Rigney headline auction

The benefits of gambling with money

How To Choose The Best Camo Hunting Vest To Get Close To Game

Best SEO packages in South Africa

CFD Trading in South Africa - Explained

Exness Review 2021

Exness - Broker of Choice

Search Engine Optimization for South African Websites

Trading Platforms that are User Friendly

What Can Super Mario Teach Us About Graphics Technology?

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful