Accessible Filmmaking by Dr Pablo Romero Fresco

To tie in with Migrating Texts, we will post a range of blogs and articles by experts (academics and industry professionals) in subtitling, translation and intermedial adaptation. We are delighted that our first guest blogger is Dr Pablo Romero Fresco from the University of Roehampton.

The numbers tell a sad story. Almost 60% of the revenue obtained by the leading top-grossing films made in Hollywood in the last decade comes from the translated (subtitled or dubbed) or accessible (with subtitles for the deaf or audiodescription for the blind) versions of those films, and yet only between 0.1% and 1% of their budgets is usually devoted to translation and accessibility. Relegated to the distribution stage as an afterthought in the filmmaking process, translators have to translate films in very limited time, for a small remuneration and with no access to the creative team of the films. This may be seen as a profitable model for the film industry, but more than a decade of research in audiovisual translation has shown that it may also have a very negative impact on the quality and reception of translated films. In fact, renowned filmmakers such as Ken Loach are now beginning to denounce that this model often results in the alteration of their film’s vision and that, even more worryingly, they are not always aware of this.

As a potential way to tackle this problem, accessible filmmaking attempts to integrate audiovisual translation and accessibility as part of the filmmaking process through collaboration between filmmakers and translators. The aim is to apply this model to training, research and practice, and the first steps have already been taken. From the point of view of training, some audiovisual translation courses now include film content as part of their syllabus. This is the case of the MA in Media Accessibility at the University of Macerata or the MA in Accessible Filmmaking at the University of Roehampton (London), where students learn not only how to make films but also how to make them accessible to viewers in other languages and viewers with hearing and visual loss. Whether or not these students will end up working in the film industry, they will be able to speak the same language as filmmakers, which will facilitate their collaboration for the translation of the films. Another potential step in this direction is to establish links between film schools and translation institutions so that audiovisual translation students can subtitle or dub for their assignments real short films made by student filmmakers. This may be more satisfying than translating clips from films that have already been translated and will also foster the spirit of collaboration between both areas.

As far as research is concerned, three new avenues in audiovisual translation are already looking at the common ground between film(making) and translation: universal design applied to media accessibility, part-subtitling and creative subtitling. All three are examples of accessible filmmaking, which could help filmmakers and film scholars explore the aspects of audiovisual translation and accessibility that have an impact on the reception of their (translated) films and audiovisual translation scholars and translators identify the elements from filmmaking and film studies that can contribute to the theory and practice of translation. In this sense, it is worth considering the often-overlooked research on translation carried out by filmmakers such as the scholar and documentarian David Mac Dougall, for whom subtitling “remains part of the creative process, influencing the pacing and rhythm of the film as well as its intellectual and emotional content”. Now that research on audiovisual translation has come of age and has begun to delve into reception studies, it is in an optimum position to consider the practical and theoretical implications of strengthening its links with film studies and filmmaking.

Finally, if it is to be presented as a realistic alternative to the current consideration of audiovisual translation as an afterthought in the filmmaking process, accessible filmmaking must also be applicable in the professional practice. A first example of this is the short documentary about blindness and audiodescription Joining the Dots. At the University of Roehampton, the collaboration between translators and the creative team of the film is set as a requirement for filmmakers who wish to have their films translated or made accessible. This collaboration may range from a couple of meetings between the filmmaker and the translator to a more thorough involvement as part of the post-production process. Examples are Michael Chanan’s Secret City (2012), Enrica Colusso’s Home Sweet Home (2012) or the award-winning documentary Hijos de las nubes (2010), directed by Alvaro Longoria and produced by the Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Outside Roehampton, companies such as Subtrain and Sub-ti are also beginning to apply this model. Furthermore, independent filmmakers such as Alastair Cole, whose award-winning films have been presented at the Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week, are now working with a new figure, the producer of accessibility, who acts as liaison between the filmmaker and the translators ensuring that they have access to the creative team of the film for their translation.

As well as the examples mentioned here with regard to training, research and practice, other initiatives have been launched to raise the visibility of accessible filmmaking in academic and non-academic circles, including presentations in film festivals (Venice 2012 and 2013, Edinburgh 2013) to reach professionals in the film industry, a first academic article, a dedicated website and a special item on the Spanish newspaper El País about the application of accessible filmmaking in developing countries.

In an increasingly multilingual society where film co-productions are becoming more and more common, translation has a key role to play. The integration of accessibility and AVT as part of the filmmaking process through the collaboration between filmmakers and translators can help ensure that the filmmakers’ visions are not altered when their films reach foreign audiences and viewers with hearing and visual loss. Time will tell whether or not it is possible to present alternative models to the current consideration of audiovisual translation and accessibility as an afterthought in the film industry, but the fact that accessible filmmaking is already being applied at grassroots level and in independent films provides encouragement to keep pursuing this cause.

About the author

Pablo Romero Fresco is a Reader in Translation and Filmmaking at the University of Roehampton, where he teaches Filmmaking, Dubbing, Subtitling and Respeaking. He also teaches at the MAs on Audiovisual Translation at Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona and University of Vigo (Spain). He is the author of the book Subtitling through Speech Recognition: Respeaking (St Jerome) and is Ofcom’s external reviewer to assess the quality of live subtitles in the UK. He has collaborated with Stagetext and the National Gallery in the UK to provide access to live events in museums and galleries for deaf and hard of hearing people and with North-West University, in South Africa, to use respeaking as a tool for social integration in the classroom. He is a member of the first World-wide Focus Group on Audiovisual Media Accessibility organised by the United Nation’s ITU and of the research group CAIAC/Transmedia Catalonia, for which he has coordinated the subtitling part of the EU-funded project DTV4ALL.

Pablo is also a filmmaker. His first documentary, Joining the Dots (2012), about blindness and audiodescription, was screened during the 69th Venice Film Festival and selected for the 2012 London Spanish Film Festival, the 12th International Human Rights Film Festival Watch Docs (Poland) and the 2014 Look & Roll Film Festival on Disabilities (Switzerland). His second documentary, Brothers and Sisters (2012), about education in Kibera (Kenya), was broadcast online by the Spanish newspaper El País in 2013 along with the feature article Levantarse en Kibera and the short film Joel (2012).


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