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‘Barrier-Free’ films offer universal experience

‘Blind’ becomes first local barrier-free film for people with hearing or visual impairments

“Blind,” this year’s highly successful serial-killer with a visually impaired heroine has been converted into Korea’s first “barrier-free” film, which people with hearing or visual impairments can view along with the non-disabled.

The new version is accompanied by a descriptive audio feature and subtitles that narrate each and every action of the film. It was first screened during the first Barrier-Free Film Symposium in Seoul at Korean Film Archive from Oct. 28-31.

“It really is an honor,” said Ahn Sang-hoon, the film’s director. “Back in 2008 I assisted a visually impaired viewer while he was watching a visually rich film. I was surprised how my explanation, which I thought was inept, could help him focus on the movie. Before the experience, I wasn’t aware that the visually impaired could actually enjoy ‘watching’ movies.” 
Director Ahn Sang-hoon, who made his box-office hit thriller “Blind” into Korea’s first “barrier-free” film, speaks during a press conference in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap News)
Director Ahn Sang-hoon, who made his box-office hit thriller “Blind” into Korea’s first “barrier-free” film, speaks during a press conference in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap News)

The event was organized by Korean Barrier Free Film Committee, which was founded in April by its chairperson Lee Eun-kyoung. Lee decided to form the organization after attending a barrier-free film festival in Kyushu, Japan, last year.

“The term ‘barrier-free’ is an architectural term,” Lee said during a press conference on Monday. “And there’s another architectural term that we’d like to use, which is ‘universal design.’ We’d like to start by removing the barrier first, but our goal is to eventually make film-watching a universal experience for everyone.”

During the four-day event, Japanese director Yoichi Higashi’s “We’ll Go Home When You Sober Up” was screened along with “Blind.” The Higashi film is one of the very few Japanese movies whose “barrier-free” version was released simultaneously with the original. The film was recreated into a Korean barrier-free version, with director Yang Ik-joon taking charge of the adaptation.

“Barrier-free films are not just for the hearing or visually impaired,” Higashi told reporters. “It’s a type of film that’s accessible to all kinds of viewers. And it can be enjoyed together.”

Tetsujiro Yamagami, president of Japanese film production house SIGLO Ltd, has been producing barrier-free films in Japan since 2004. He stressed that barrier-free is a movie genre, not a welfare program.

“Such perception is one of the reasons why ‘barrier-free’ isn’t as known in Japan.” Yamagami said.

According to Yamagami, the U.S., the U.K. and France offer online programs where viewers can search barrier-free movie theaters, and most of the programs are government funded.

“The funding issue is still a problem in Japan,” he said. “For every project, it’s always unclear who should be responsible for the money.”

The second barrier-free film in Korea will be this year’s huge box office hit “Leafie, A Hen into the Wild.” Its director Oh Sung-yun just started audio recording of the new version on Sunday.

“It’s been a huge challenge,” Oh told The Korea Herald. “I’ve been purposely not looking at the screen while we were creating the descriptive audio feature. I tried to rely solely on my hearing abilities.”

For non-disabled viewers, “barrier-free” movies can be a new experience. After the screening on Sunday, many expressed a positive response, the committee said.

“Some said it was as if watching a movie with the director right besides you, explaining about the movie,” Choi Sun-hee, the committee’s producer, told The Korea Herald. “Some said they caught many details they would’ve missed if the subtitles weren’t there.”

The Korean Barrier Free-free Film Committee plans to hold another screening session in Bucheon, Gyonggi Province, later this month.

By Claire Lee (