An Australian-first smartphone app will allow visually impaired people to fully experience movies at the cinema, in a new trial designed to make films more accessible.
The new app, called MovieReading, is from Italy and is being piloted in Australia next week with Notes on Blindness, a BAFTA-nominated British documentary following one man’s experience in becoming totally blind.
While filmgoers are usually warned not to get their phones out during a film, with MovieReading they’re encouraged to plug in their headphones while the movie is described to them as it plays.
“The technology behind the app ‘listens’ to the regular audio of the film and synchronises with it and then adds the enhanced audio elements on top of the regular soundtrack,” Demand.film chief executive David Doepel says.
“So if you are the person using it, you hear the ambient cinema sound, usually in magnificent 5.1 sound, and then perhaps in one ear through an earphone you hear the description.
“It doesn’t interfere with a sighted person’s experience of the film as no one else hears the descriptive audio except the person using the app.”
According to Doepel, people with visual impairments will be able to see and hear these movies the way filmmakers intended in a way that they could do only at home previously.
Demand.film, a Perth-based firm with offices in Wellington, London and Los Angeles, lets any person or organisation “host” a film listed on the Demand.film site and create an event around it. They can then use their own social media network to sell tickets to their friends and online community.
Demand.film, in turn, reserves the theatre, manages ticketing and ensures the delivery of the film.
“We stand for access, our basic proposition is to increase the diversity of what’s on offer at the cinema,” Doepel says, adding his main focus is to give independent, niche films a chance at distribution.
He says Demand.film’s ultimate vision is working on a commercially viable model to bring all sorts of films to the cinema that otherwise would not be there.
“In the case of Notes on Blindness it is even more of a natural fit to use the MovieReading app. Australian-born and raised professor John Hull, whom the film is about, lived his whole professional life as a powerful advocate for the disabled community and was himself the embodiment of someone who adopted technology that allowed him to experience a full and rich life,” Doepel says.
“As a company we are in conversation with how to extend the use of the technology to our other titles as well, and to develop appropriate commercial models for doing so.”
MovieReading is not the only app targeting cinema accessibility, with animation powerhouse Pixar testing an app of its own, offering narration between dialogue for its movies. It is planning on expanding the app to “all movies, everywhere”.
“Just because Disney is the first movie studio to take the delivery method of audio description seriously doesn’t mean it’ll be the only one,” a spokesman says.
“There are 285 million visually impaired people in the world — that’s 285 million people who, if given an accessible way to enjoy great movies, would be fans and customers for life.”
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