Paris holds film fes­ti­val — for the vis­ually im­paired


In most movie the­aters the lights go dark and the fea­ture be­gins, but for an au­di­ence at­tend­ing a Paris film fes­ti­val un­der way this month, the whole world is dark and stays that way.

The Au­dio­vi­sion Film Fes­ti­val, which be­gan this week and runs to April 14, is un­usual in that it caters to the blind and vis­ually im­paired.

Movies are screened as nor­mal on the big screen. But in the theater in a south­ern Paris dis­trict host­ing the fes­ti­val, the au­di­ence is wear­ing head­phones hooked into a lo­cal net­work to hear blowby- blow syn­chro­nized de­scrip­tions of the ac­tion hap­pen­ing be­fore their un- or poor-see­ing eyes.

“A ptero­dactyl swoops from the sky and pecks Edouard on the head,” nar­rates a voice in echo of a scene from the open­ing film shown on Wed­nes­day: a new French an­i­ma­tion com­edy mak­ing light of pre­his­toric evo­lu­tion, ti­tled “Pourquoi j’ai pas mangi mon phre” ( Why I didn’t eat my fa­ther).

For the crowd of blind and par­tially blind school chil­dren in the theater, the movie — and its added sound­track — elicited laughs and gig­gles.

Fabio, a nine-and-a-half-yearold who lined up to get pop­corn for the fea­ture, told AFP that the Au­dio­vi­sion de­scrip­tion aug­mented his ex­pe­ri­ence of the movie.

“I imag­ine the film and I try to ‘see’ the de­scrip­tion,” he said.

A blind-from-birth ra­dio pre­sen­ter who led an au­di­ence de­bate af­ter the movie, Benjamin Mauro, ven­tured that “if there wasn’t Au­dio­vi­sion, it would have been im­pos­si­ble to fol­low this film.”

Many of the chil­dren agreed it helped greatly, but one or two said they had adapted to piec­ing to­gether movies from the dia­logue and sounds that hav­ing a nar­rated de­scrip­tion wasn’t in­dis­pens­able.

“I’ve al­ways been used to ‘watch­ing’ se­ries and films that it (Au­dio­vi­sion) hand­i­capped me, in fact,” said one ado­les­cent, Benita, dur­ing the de­bate.

Mauro, too, ad­mit­ted that the sys­tem wasn’t per­fect, and he had to turn up the vol­ume on his head­phones to make the au­dio de­scrip­tion au­di­ble above the movie’s Dolby-boosted sound­track.

Jean- Marc helped put Plumauzille, who the Au­dio­vi­sion sound­track to­gether for the open­ing film, also said that an­i­ma­tions were a chal­lenge “be­cause they go along at high speed and leave lit­tle space for nar­ra­tion.”

Other movies were tax­ing in dif­fer­ent ways, he said, for in­stance in us­ing the right words to evoke an at­mos­phere pro­duced vis­ually.

Grad­ual Progress

For the or­ga­niz­ers of the film fes­ti­val, the process was pro­gres­sively get­ting bet­ter.

Au­dio- de­scrip­tion sys­tems started out in the United States and spread to France in the 1990s, where gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies since 2012 have in­cited theater net­works to take them on.

Still, said Olivier Jaud de La Jous­selin­iere, of the Valentin Huy as­so­ci­a­tion or­ga­niz­ing the film fes­ti­val and pro­mot­ing ac­cess to cul­ture for vis­ually im­paired peo­ple, “un­for­tu­nately it is still not de­vel­oped enough.”

In 2014, just 16 per­cent of films in France came with an au­dio-de­scrip­tion sound­track, and less than two per­cent of the­aters were equipped.

In an ef­fort to min­i­mize the the­aters’ out­lay for hard­ware, the Ger­man au­dio com­pany Sennheiser sup­ply­ing the head­sets for the fes­ti­val on Wed­nes­day pre­sented a smart­phone app that al­lows the au­diode­scrip­tion sound­track to be beamed in over a Wi-Fi net­work.

The ef­forts were ap­pre­ci­ated by the stu­dents at the open­ing day screen­ing.

One young vis­ually im­paired girl, Mar­got, en­cour­aged those be­hind the fes­ti­val — and the tech­nol­ogy — by say­ing: “Keep go­ing and, again, bravo!”

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