For disabled persons, barriers exist everywhere, physical barriers, environmental barriers, and even psychological barriers. One area that is often off limits is cultural events and movie entertainment. That has long been the reality of South Korea. This reality, however, is slowly changing thanks to barrier-free movements. Nowadays, the disabled can share the experience of watching newly released movies in theatres.
The barrier-free movement originated in England to enable the marginalized in society to successfully assimilate. This movement extends into architecture, design, and even to movies. It started in the 1950s as a response to help injured veterans assimilate and provide them employment or educational opportunities. Although the physical barriers were once considered to be obstacles to living a “normal” life, the barrier-free movement helped the disabled to live fuller lives.
Barrier-free films came about with the spread of the barrier-free movement in South Korea, as more people came to realize that society should be more inclusive. Barrier-free films enable the visually and hearing impaired to enjoy the same movies as other movie goers. Through subtitles and dubbing, they can share the experience of watching movies in the theatre.
▲ Picture of cafe Nestnad. Photographed by Kim Jung Ik.
Barrier-free films may be unfamiliar to most people. They are adapted so that visually impaired, hearing impaired, and non-disabled can watch the movie at the same time. Such a movie includes subtitles and voice in the background that describes each scene.
The chair person of the Korean Barrier Free Film Committee (KoBaF), Lee Eun-Kyung (44), got her inspiration while she was taking a part in selling the Korean documentary film named Old Partner to a Japanese film company named Siglo. Mr. Tetsujiro YAMAGAMI, the CEO of Siglo, was also the chairman of Media Access Support Center (MASC), a barrier-free association in Japan. Lee was given the opportunity to attend the 1st Barrier-free SAGA film festival in Japan on the year 2010.
While attending the barrier-free film festival in Japan, she decided she wanted to share these experiences with Korean audiences. Up until that time, Korean barrier-free films have been made with subtitles and a descriptive video service, but were not made with professional movie directors, and lacked in quality. Lee said that even disabled people should be given a chance to watch movie through professionally made barrier-free films.
KoBaF works with professionals to recreate an already existing movie into a barrier-free film version. Then, they contact the films companies and movie theatres. However, they are faced with obstacles while looking for theatres. “Not many people know about the barrier-free movies, so it is difficult to screen them in big movie theatres. We usually have to invite audience before screening a movie.”
Furthermore, disabled people are still not used to paying money and coming to the movie theatre; which can be extremely difficult for them to do alone. In many other developed countries, there is infrastructure to accommodate the disabled. In
Korea, however, most the spaces were not built with consideration for the disabled. “If we close our eyes for just a couple of seconds, we come to realize how difficult it is even to walk a few steps forward,” said Lee. As filmmakers, she does not believe that she can change the entire social structure. However, she hopes that barrier-free films could help to raise awareness, and as a stepping stone to a future barrier-free society.
The barrier-free films are screened at many places. In Seoul, there are many cafes, including Nestnada located in Hongdae, where people can enjoy watching barrier-free films movies once a month. Recently, another café opened in MaPogu, and will show barrier-free films once a month, too. The barrier-free films are not only limited to Seoul, but also to other parts of the country. The information could be easily gained by searching “barrier-free films” on web engines.
However, cafes are not the main place to view barrier-free movies. “We have something called community screening, where we are open to lending the movie to any group of people. For example, on the days like April 20 (National Disabled Persons Day), the demand for barrier-free films also increases," said Lee.
It has been two years since KoBaF was formed, and the organization has produced over 20 pieces of films. The reaction to barrier-free film has been favorable. Many famous actors are involved in the movies, which attracts the audience. Even the non-disabled in the audience have enjoyed the movie. After getting used to this film, many even prefer watching barrier free movies.
▲ Logo of Korean Barrier Free Film Committee. Provided by KoBaF.
▲ Every month, on the second week of Sunday, Kookmin cafe screens barrier free movies. Photographed by Kim Jung Ik.
Korea is moving forward to include everyone to be a part of society. The 2015 Disability Discrimination Act will greatly help in this cause. Lee acknowledges that they cannot change the entire community but sees them as a catalyst to build the barrier-free society.