BROOKLINE, Mass. — For most of us, going to the movies is easy. We pick up the paper, find a film and a time, and head over the theater. But it’s not so simple for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Now the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline in making movies on the big screen more accessible to them.
WBUR’s Andrea Shea has the story of how one woman’s quest has led to a monthly club for deaf and hearing impaired film fans.
ANDREA SHEA: Ginny Mazur is a self-described film geek.
GINNY MAZUR: My response to going deaf was to try to form a movie club (laughs). It was a survival mechanism, I think (laughs) but also it came out of one of the things I love the most which is film.
ANDREA SHEA: Mazur’s love affair sparked when she was 4 years old…with ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
FILM SCENE from ‘The Wizard of Oz’
ANDREA SHEA: Mazur was born hearing…but began to lose certain sound frequencies at age 30. A high-powered hearing aid helped clarify the chaos in her ears…but, as Mazur’s ability dipped, she says she relied more and more on captions and subtitles…at home.
GINNY MAZUR: I have watched DVDs and I have you know watched more foreign films, but I really just wanted to be able to come to the theater.
ANDREA SHEA: Many theaters are equipped with assisted listening devices, but, as Mazur discovered, they’re far from perfect.
SOUND of movie projector
ANDREA SHEA: Almost 2 years ago Mazur came here…to the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline…with a group of senior citizens she works with.
GINNY MAZUR: There was a glitch somewhere in the system and we were getting a lot of static and we weren’t picking up the movie.
ANDREA SHEA: So Mazur approached the theater’s Executive Director in the lobby.
JOE ZINA: It was an interesting new voice to hear and a need that I wasn’t aware of, I mean, I’m not deaf.
ANDREA SHEA: That’s the Director, Joe Zina.
JOE ZINA: I was very curious to understand how we could make this work for the deaf or the hard of hearing because it seems like there’s gotta be a solution to this, it’s only technological you know it’s vibration, how do you get vibrations to these people?
ANDREA SHEA: In this case with help from audiologists from Northeastern University. Zina says they fixed the problem…and went on to install a wireless listening system in a 45-seat screening room. Cost: About 300 dollars.
JOE ZINA (touring the screening room)
In this room here is the actual broadcaster, so this is the thing that translates the information or broadcasts it, and then there’s a black wire…
ANDREA SHEA: That black wire creates a circle of sound which Mazur receives through her hearing aid. She takes in nothing but the pristine soundtrack…dialogue…effects and music. Everything is crystal clear, she says.
GINNY MAZUR: And you can smell the popcorn, right in here, and you kind of settle in and hunker down and get ready for the movie.
FILM SCENE from ‘The Miracle Worker’
ANDREA SHEA: It’s film club night…and Mazur is screening a captioned print of ‘The Miracle Worker’ for a group of deaf and hard of hearing movie fans, each with different levels of loss. Victor Notaro has been fully deaf since birth and before this club says he rarely went to the movies. Tthrough an interpreter Notaro explains that he can enjoy them here because of the captions…and also because he’s with an audience of people who sign.
VICTOR NOTARO: If they’re deaf you can see their feelings what they’re saying to each other about the movie, whereas if I’m the only deaf person in a theater full of hearing people I don’t know what they’re saying to each other, I’m completely alone, and I don’t know what’s happening on the screen.
ANDREA SHEA: This is a rare experience for Kimberly Shaw, too. She’s hard of hearing and says while bigger, corporate theater chains offer assisted listening devices, it’s been tough for her and her friends to find captioned screenings.
KIMBERLY SHAW: We tried to have a movie date once and we were just trying to figure out from the theater it’s almost impossible to find out when are the open captioned showings and where are they. That is an art in itself.
ANDREA SHEA: And, she says, there’s not much to choose from. Only a few theater chains cater to this audience. Heidi Reed says that’s short-sighted. She’s the Massachusetts Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and believes they’re ignoring a largely untapped and expanding market.
HEIDI REED: Although we have over 500,000 people in the state who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, and although the National Institute of Health estimates that 1 in 8 people will be deaf and hard-of-hearing, we still don’t have the recognition of being a large audience group, so it’s an audience that the movie theater community is missing.
MUSIC from soundtrack of ‘Miracle Worker’
ANDREA SHEA: Back at the film club screening Lisa Chiango, who’s deaf, is thrilled to have a place to really experience the movies.
LISA CHiANGO: You sit in a chair. You watch the big screen. You feel the vibration on the floor. The music, you feel it through your heart. It’s just amazing. At home you don’t get that sensation, you don’t get that.
ANDREA SHEA: The theater and club want to expand its offerings to include family films. For now, though, the club meets here the fourth Wednesday of each month. This week’s selection is ‘Copying Beethoven.’
For WBUR I’m Andrea Shea.