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Subtitles for deaf moviegoers tested

July 21, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Like many motion pictures, this one had a happy ending for the hero and heroine. But much of the audience left the theater in suspense.

Many at the Sunday matinee of the new comedy-fantasy film, ``A Simple Wish,″ wondered if their first experience at simply buying tickets and easing into their seats like typical moviegoers will remain a rare experience or become routine.

It is up to the film industry, said Toby Silver, chairwoman of the Movie Access Coalition of nine advocacy organizations for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

The coalition arranged with Universal Studios and Cineplex Odeon theaters for showings of the movie with special subtitles at the bottom of the screen at theaters in Washington, New York, Chicago and Universal City, Calif.

Silver said the test marks the first time ``open captioning″ is being used in a first-run family picture shown to general audiences. The deaf and hard of hearing yearn to become part of those audiences, to share an experience they are cut off from, she said.

The subtitles include not only actors’ dialogue but also descriptions of other sounds such as ``clock tolling midnight″ or ``loud laughing.″

Outcome of the test will depend on reaction, if any, to the test from general audiences. If the showings draw a crowd, ``Universal has indicated that it will continue to show this movie in these theaters in the weeks following,″ the coalition said.

Past showings for the deaf have involved donated films and screenings often months after the original release and at higher prices, Silver said. ``Would you want to wait until four months after Christmas to see a Christmas movie?″

More than 100 of the 125 people who attended the Sunday showing had hearing disabilities. When the lights came on, they wore delighted smiles and conversed animatedly in sign language about their hopes for more of the new experience. More showings of the captioned film are scheduled Wednesday.

``I have no problem″ with the captioning, said local Cineplex Odeon manager Henry Passman, adding that there should always be advance public notice. The Washington Post noted it in its movie listings and Passman personally announced it on stage.

The captions are sure to be welcomed by 28 million deaf and hearing-impaired people in the United States, Silver said, plus countless students just learning to read, immigrants and others learning English as a second language.

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