No Barriers to Cinema: Subtitled Cinema

02 Dec 2020 BY Robin McHugh

6 mins
At a special event celebrating language, communication, and Deaf cultural i
At a special event celebrating language, communication, and Deaf cultural i

At Into Film we recognise cinema's power for social, cultural and academic enrichment, and believe every child and young person has the right to access it.

Tomorrow marks International Day of People with Disabilities (3 December), and as some cinema venues reopen their doors this week, we are taking this moment to voice our support for and celebration of audiences with accessibility requirements. In the first article in this series, we look at the importance of subtitled cinema.

Campaigns such as #SubtitledCinema have long advocated to increase the availability of subtitled cinema screenings in the UK, citing how a shortage of listings during sociable hours has in the past caused many D/deaf people to abandon the idea of going to the movies. In this exceptionally challenging time for the industry, there are also concerns that recent progress risks being undermined by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as safety measures such as face coverings and social distancing can present additional barriers to those with accessibility requirements. But as Charlotte Little writes, there are a number of steps cinemas can take to manage a safe environment and make sure that access is maintained for D/deaf and disabled cinemagoers.

We will continue our work to make film and cinema available to all young people regardless of their background. Working closely with exhibitors and educators across the UK, we ensure that over half of the 3000 screenings on offer at the Into Film Festival are Hard of Hearing (HOH) subtitled, audio-described, or autism-friendly events, as well as offering over 7,300 wheelchair spaces. 

Shared Access

Before the Covid-19 pandemic broke, we piloted a programme of special events in London celebrating language, communication, and Deaf cultural identity. In consultation with D/deaf educators, young people and artists, the aim was to challenge the perception that accessible cinema screenings need to be separate events from mainstream programming. With a 50% minimum allocation of places for D/deaf young people, we placed an emphasis on the value of shared access to film and learning about each other's cultural identity. 

With captioned feature titles such as Arrival and Isle of Dogs selected for their wide popular appeal and thematic links to language & communication, short films exploring the work of D/deaf artists and filmmakers opened the events. Special guests included the award-winning poet Raymond Antrobus and London Short Film Festival programmer Zoë McWhinney, with on stage Q&As prepared and facilitated in British Sign Language (BSL) by students from Heathlands School for Deaf Children.

It was a quote by artist Christine Sun Kim displayed on a young audience member's bag and subsequently read aloud by Antrobus, which encapsulated why we must break down barriers to communication, culture and art, and make cultural venues shared spaces for all: "If sign language was considered equal, we'd already be friends." 

Our students benefited hugely from the event. They had the opportunity to consider and discuss the importance of language, culture and self-expression. Our students are native British Sign Language users and they could relate to issues shown through the film relating to language and how it comes with barriers.

Educator - Heathlands School for Deaf Children

To accompany this article, we have published the below film list championing works featuring D/deaf stories and identity, as well as films that teach us about how humans interact with each other and the world around them.

In March 2021, we will be pairing individual schools with cinema venues for our "Into Film Festival Presents" programme. If you're an educator working with young people with accessibility requirements, and would be interested in attending a screening, please get in touch with us at  

If in the meantime you are looking for accessible cinema listings, visit the UK Cinema Association's Accessible Screenings search engine to find showings near you.

Please check that the cinema you are intending to visit is open and visit their website for the latest guidance on social distancing and how to make your visit as safe as possible.

Robin McHugh

Robin McHugh, Into Film's Programme Delivery Coordinator for the London region

Before joining Into Film, Robin trained as a teacher with Teach First and worked as a science teacher and head of biology at an inner London secondary school.

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