January 31, 2023

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Sundance jury walks out after festival fails to provide captions

3 min read

Sundance’s US Dramatic Competition jurors walked out of the premiere of “Magazine Dreams” Friday night over an incident in which the festival failed to provide adequate captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, including juror Marlee Matlin.

Dramatic Jury Members – Jeremy O. Harris, along with Eliza Hittman and Matlin – jointly decided to leave the film as it began when a captioning device given to Matlin did not work. Although the device was repaired hours later, it underscores a larger problem that has gone on behind the scenes when it comes to the festival’s ability to make films accessible to everyone.

According to multiple sources, the jury has repeatedly expressed concern to both Sundance and the filmmakers that movies playing at this year’s festival should come with open captioning. At other international festivals, including Cannes and Venice, movies are subtitled on screen in multiple languages. This year’s application for certification at Sundance asked participants if they needed access to captioning.

However, according to multiple sources, several filmmakers have declined requests for onscreen open captioning, citing the cost and time associated with making another print. Sources say some buyers have even suggested that the film’s captions could somehow hurt the film’s asking price in the market as they try to find distribution.

Amid the “Magazine Dreams” controversy, the jury sent a signed letter to the festival’s filmmakers asking them to allow “open caption DCP” prints to be shown on screen.

“We all traveled to Utah to celebrate independent film and those who have dedicated their lives to making it,” according to a copy of the letter received. diversity. “There’s a thrill in sitting in a room with others who love movies and cheering for them together, and Sundance has been an important place for each of us to do that in our various careers. The US independent cinema movement began as a way to make film accessible to everyone, not just the most privileged among us. Our ability to celebrate the work you all put into making these films as a jury is hampered by the fact that they are not accessible to all three of us.”

In response to the incident, Sundance CEO Joanna Vicente issued a statement: “Our goal is to make all experiences (in person and online) as accessible as possible for all attendees. Our accessibility efforts are, admittedly, always evolving, and feedback helps drive it forward for the entire community.”

Sundance has taken a long time in the past to accommodate people with various disabilities as part of its mandate of inclusiveness. This year, two ASL interpreters took the stage for opening remarks and a question-and-answer session following the screening with festival leadership and filmmakers.

In 2020, the festival confirmed that “Crip Camp” co-director James Lebrecht, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, was able to attend major events, including the film’s premiere. And sources say the festival tried to work around the “Magazine Dreams” team’s refusal to provide captions and gave Matlin alternative technology, which was faulty. The premiere start time was delayed by 45 minutes. A source says it’s due to a technical issue, but it’s unclear if it’s related to captioning.

It is unclear whether other films will now allow captioning after this accident.

“Magazine Dreams” is directed by Elijah Bynum and centers on a black amateur bodybuilder who struggles to find human connection.

Read Vicente’s full statement:

Our goal is to make all experiences (in person and online) as accessible as possible to all participants. Our accessibility efforts are, admittedly, always evolving, and feedback helps drive it forward for the entire community.

The screening device used to provide closed captioning did not work during one of our Friday evening premieres. The jurors left so they could watch it together at another time during the festival. Our team immediately worked with the devices in place to test again for the next screening, and the device worked without a glitch

Our team has done amazing work in this area but there is always more work to do. We all still need to do more as we learn and consider the wider community.”

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