Audio Description in Cinemas: 12 Months of Progress

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Roberta: As some of you may remember in June, last year, the Federal Government announced a 4 year plan to roll out accessible cinema screens at every Hoyts, Village, Event and Reading cinema location nationally. Well, 12 months have passed since that announcement, and it is just now that the audio description side of things is beginning to get rolling. Media Access Australia Cinema and DVD Manager, Ally Woodford, is here to update us on the developments. Welcome, Ally.

Ally:  Thanks, Roberta.

Roberta: Now, firstly, can you quickly remind us of what the hold ups have been over the last year?

Ally:  Sure. I think it’s safe to say that the cinemas jumped the gun a little, when it came to the commitment they made concerning the introduction of the audio description. It was after the commitment was made public that they discovered that the international standards for placement of the audio description soundtrack on the movie file were yet to be finalised, so there was also difficulty in finding out the information regarding a deadline as to when that might be sorted. But now, this all seems to be sorted, so we’re, sort of, back on track.

Roberta: Wow, that’s a shame that, but still, it was the keenness, I suppose, at the beginning. Now, with the international standards sorted, are we going to now see a quick escalation in the number of screens available with audio description?

Ally: Yes and no. And what I mean by that is that at the meeting of the Accessible Cinema Advisory Group at the end of May, the cinemas committed to rolling out 45 accessible screens by December 31st this year.  And that’s on top of the current five that are in place, which will bring us to 50 by year’s end. But when I say no, this reflects the change to the original public commitment from June last year, which was 74 screens by year’s end. So we’re about 25 screens down.

Roberta: So have the cinemas provided a location schedule there?

Ally: Not yet. That’s due in around August. That’s what they've been telling us and I actually had further indication this morning that it will be August, but whether it’s the 1st or the 31st, that’s anyone’s guess.

Roberta: Have they, sort of, given you any reason as to why they couldn’t keep their original commitment?

Ally: Yeah, it’s a question – it’s, kind of, one that’s best answered by the cinemas, but I know installation scheduling plays a part in the change and it’s a timing issue.  And also availability of the installers, which are a third party, which need to come into the cinemas.  And with these screens, they’re going to be dotted around Australia and it takes some time to fit them all in. I think the installers are going to be quite busy for the remainder of the year, so there has needed to be a bit of a compromise there, but – yeah, I think, maybe the cinemas could shed more light on that, but we’re going to run with the 50 screens by the end of the year and I think that’s a nice compromised result. Yeah.

Roberta: So since we last spoke, have any new screens become accessible?

Ally: Yeah. A bit Sydney-centric, at first. We’ve got two screens. Originally, there was only one, but we’ve got two screens now at Broadway in Sydney. George Street in Sydney has just switched over. They've got two screens. Two screens at Top Ryde in Sydney. Maroochydore in Queensland has just, last week, swapped over from the old system to the new system and Belconnen, in the ACT, at the moment, is undergoing refurbishment. So we don’t have any Melbourne ones, as yet, but with a further 40 screens also due by the end of the year, I’m expecting some Melbourne screens to be on the schedule that the cinemas should release in August.

Roberta: But you were saying about Sydney-centric, I mean, it’s got to start somewhere, hasn’t it?

Ally: Yeah, yeah.

Roberta: And at least, if there’s any mistakes, it’ll be fixed before it comes to Melbourne.

Ally: Hopefully, yeah. Well …

Roberta: Now, Ally, it’s a question without notice. Have we got any new films coming online?

Ally: Yeah, the film – I think what happened with the old system, the old analog system that we had was that they would be able to give us a, say, 3 months in advance, letting us know what movies would be coming out, but with this new system, and I can’t – to be honest. I can’t actually get my head around it yet. It’s still, sort of, something that’s being worked out and it’s only a question that’s only come up in the last couple of days.  But at this point in time, the cinemas aren’t able to provide us with advanced notice of what the movies will be, which is a bit disappointing, ‘cause everyone wants to know what’s coming up and when the latest Harry Potter’s going to come out and with audio description. That kind of thing. Yeah, it’s a bit …

Roberta: Yeah, but that will happen in time. I’m quite sure.

Ally: Hopefully.

Roberta:  The Accessible Cinema Advisory Group has released a progress report on the developments in the roll out and this can be found at yourlocalcinema.com.au. Alternatively, give Ally a call at Media Access Australia on (02) 9212 6242 to have a chat about the commitment. That’s (02) 9212 6242. I’ve been speaking with Ally Woodford who is the Media Access Australia Cinema and DVD Manager. Thank you, Ally.

Ally: Thanks, Roberta.

Roberta: And Media Access Australia are supporters of this programme.


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