InSight Cinema: Bringing Captioned Movies to a Theatre Near You

Thirteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, leaps and bounds of progress have been made in […]

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Thirteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, leaps and bounds of progress have been made in creating accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community in most aspects of life. However, there are still areas that are not completely accessible, and one of them is captioning in movie theaters.

There is a national organization based in California dedicated to broadening the movie theater experience for deaf and hard of hearing people. InSight Cinema has established a relationship with major studios and all major theater chains in distributing open-captioned films. This partnership includes more than 200 theater programs in more than 500 cities in the United States.

Originally founded as Tripod Captioned Films, this was operated by an educational program, TRIPOD in Burbank, CA. After the Burbank Unified School System took over, InSight became its offspring. Funded partially by a percentage of ticket sales (on open-captioned films), sponsors and donations, InSight is operated with Nanci Linke-Ellis at its helm as executive director, with a staff of five people.

Said Linke-Ellis, “Captioning is my passion. With video IPods and PDAs, we’ve only scratched the surface of technologies yet to be developed. The one thing that will never change is the audience need.”

Other than open captioned films, InSight’s major activities include promoting, advertising, outreach and increasing awareness about any live theater, museum exhibits, lectures, concerts for performances that are captioned. InSight also works closely with several companies on new digital captioning technologies that will increase the number of captioned films available to deaf and hard of hearing people.

There are certain criteria that are followed in order for a particular city to get a certain movie, such as approval from both the theaters and studios and the projected success of the film. Attendance numbers also impact the geographic locations where certain movies will play. The top 50 cities get every film; they are shipped to other cities to save transportation costs. This affects the dates of the showings.

While the film-booking process is simple, there continues to be resistance from the studios and movie theaters. Some studios ask for digital films (as opposed to the traditional 33mm prints used for open captioned films and do not want to create additional films.) “The deaf and hard of hearing look at an audience of 75 people and think ‘gee, isn’t this great,’ but the theater manager looks at the empty 125 seats and wonders where everybody is?” commented Linke-Ellis.

In Linke-Ellis’ opinion, the attendance numbers have become sparse due to the audience being spread out over too many films. “The average (hearing) moviegoer attends four to six films a year, not 25,” added Linke-Ellis, asserting that time needs to be spent on attracting and expanding the audience. “InSight has put significant energy and focus on finding ways to promote outside the box,” stated Linke-Ellis. Efforts have been put into including groups that may not fall in the deaf and hard of hearing community, such as ESL or literacy groups who could also benefit from captioned films.

Persons who would like to bring more open captioned films to their location or support InSight’s endeavors can find more information at

Reprinted with permission. This article appeared in SIGNews’ March 2006 issue.

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