2022-05-13 23:24ByTaoZihui
Beijing Review 2022年10期

By Tao Zihui

The curtain was raised, and right before the opening dialogue commenced, a gentle voice filled the theater...

“He strides ahead. On one side are four rickshaws standing at the entrance of the shopping mall; their drivers resting on the roadside. On the other side a bright shop window. His footsteps are picking up the pace, and he bears a cheerful expression.” These lines are part of historical epic 1921, designed for the visually impaired.

Holding a microphone, a narrator describes the scenes, while the audience quietly takes in their every detail. With volunteers providing audio“footage,” barrier-free movies vividly explain different passages to help the visually impaired grasp the feel of the film.

Cai Yu, a Ph.D. student in radio and television, is among the 500 from Communication University of China(CUC) lending a helping hand. As a film narrator at Guangming Cinema, a philanthropic project based in Beijing, her job is to orally illuminate films for blind audiences.

China has a visually impaired population of over 17 million—marking an average of one in 80 people. Some of them are completely blind, others can perceive shades of light, but generally the world before their eyes is dark and bleary. By late 2021, the Guangming Cinema team had produced 416 barrier-free movies and hosted 254 screenings nationwide. The narrators’ explanations and descriptions, with a little support of imagination, help the moviegoers paint a filmic picture.

Barrier-free cinemas started popping up in China around 2005, soon evolving into an otherworldly yet realistic haven for many visually impaired people.

Lulu (pseudonym), a 12-year-old in Beijing, has suffered from extreme myopia since childhood. As her eyes deteriorated, her sight became gradually more blurred and unfocused.

1921 is a film Lulu has always wanted to “watch.”She first turned to regular online slash movie platforms and though the action scenes sounded interesting, her understanding of the movie was limited given she could only hear the dialogues. Last year, Lulu got to “see” the flick for the first time at a charity screening hosted by Guangming Cinema. “I got my first movie ticket; third row!” she excitedly shared.

“We describe, in words, the scenes, moves, facial expressions and other details of movie characters that are not included in the actors’ lines to give blind audiences the visual intel,” Cai told Beijing Review.

For Cai, the development of barrier-free accessibility should not be restricted to infrastructure alone. “We hope the barrier-free movies can help visually impaired people experience a more colorful life,” she said.

How to “tell a movie” was challenging for Cai and her colleagues from the very onset. There are different ways of narrating a film. Before they started the project in 2017, some other teams had already completed a flick with 20-30 minutes of narration.

But what Cai wants to do, is to produce a barrierfree film of the same length as its original. “The visually impaired also want to experience a complete film, so that they, too, can gain a comprehensive perception,” she explained.

Currently, Guangming Cinema offers both narrated movies and onsite narration services. To make an audience with low vision understand what is happening on the screen, Cai and other volunteers have to translate the visual cues into words, and at the same time make sure their narration doesn’t interfere with the cinematic dialogue; by no means an easy feat.

Their job mainly consists of two parts: writing and telling. Usually, two writers need to watch the original film more than 10 times before completing the narrator scripts. After the paperwork is done, a storyteller will then dub it. “The production cycle of each film is about 25 days. Creating an access-for-all movie requires at least 3,000 pauses,” Zhao Xijing, a tutor with Guangming Cinema from CUC, told Beijing Review. “It requires us to pick and choose, details versus images.‘Empty’ segments usually don’t require any further explanation. We focus more on the ones that are significant or foreshadow the unfolding storyline.”

“While clarifying the key content, there also needs to be some blank space, which leaves room for the imagination to shift gears,” Cai added.

The barrier-free movie project, for Cai, is more about finding a way to make audiences empathize with the story. “What impresses you, will impress others,” she said.“We always select those images that are inspiring to regular viewers, and then provide more detailed explanations, in turn making them likely to strike a chord with visually impaired audiences as well.”

There’s one specific shot in the 2021 production The Pioneer: a red standard flutters in the wind. The very color gave Cai a great visual impact, and it’s a moving image. What she had to do next, was to convey her emotion to those in attendance. “In this case, we need to describe the detail of the flag: It’s made from a couple of red rags; it’s about a kind of revolutionary spirit.”

And so another problem arises: How to convey the concept of color to those with challenged vision? “Will it perhaps evoke unhappy memories? I had downplayed the explanation of color before, but that’s part of the speculation by those with normal eyesight,”Cai said.

Tongtong (pseudonym) is a student at a school for the visually impaired in Beijing, and a friend of Cai’s. When it comes to the notion of color, Tongtong thinks it’s quite normal for her to talk about.

She told Cai that people with low vision also want to know more about what the outside world looks like. “Of course I know the sky is blue, but the blue I imagine, is not the blue you guys see,” Tongtong said.

From Cai’s perspective, we all share this one universe, “No one is‘saving’ the other,” she said. “Everyone has their own independent life. We help the visually impaired understand some abstract ideas, but that doesn’t mean we impose our perceptions on them; we leave it up to their imagination.” BR