AD Spotlight: Heart Cinema

Audio describers all over the world are making advances in their craft every day. The ‘Spotlight’ blog series draws attention to individuals who are advancing AD through their practice, industry, and activism.

Image: A Disney animation plays on a television and a man with a microphone describes what is happening on screen.

In this post we focus on the rise of audio description in China, where volunteers, local governments, and filmmakers have been working to increase the accessibility of cinema for all.

As this recent article explains, Heart Cinema in Beijing is an example of such progress in action; providing live audio description for all its films.

“Founded in 2005, Heart Cinema is reportedly the first cinema of this kind. Volunteer narrators introduce, describe, and explain unidentifiable information such as characters, movements, and scenes between lines to help the visually impaired understand the movies.

More than a decade later, more and more young people are volunteering and helping to expand the service to other cities in China and online.”

Lu Zhao

Similar audio description hubs have arisen in the cities of Shanghai, Wuxi, and Kunming, where volunteers perform live audio description each week and sometimes provide recorded tracks.

The demand for these services is increasing. According to China’s Association for the Blind, there are 17.31 million people with visual impairment in the country, which is 20.36% of China’s total disabled population.

Of course, live audio describing is not a simple task. Liu Tong has volunteered at Heart Cinema for nine years. As she explains to Zhau, many hours of preparation go into her performance:

She used to take months preparing for a film. Liu’s first script was for Lan, a 2009 autobiographical film directed by Chinese actress Jiang Wenli. It took her half a year to finish the script. Now, after 63 narrations, she can get ready in four days.

Lu Zhau

As awareness of audio description and its benefits spreads, there is hope that more services, funding, and tools will become available. The potential for collaboration with the film industry is also an area of great potential in China, as in Australia.

“Accessible films should not only be a public welfare action, but also a part of film and television production.”

Han Dongxue, CEO of Yier Information Technology

Ultimately, access to cinema is about much more than simple entertainment or commerce. As one viewer explains, being able to access films has transformed his life:

A vision-impaired Chinese man speaks to the camera. Closed Caption translation: "After I began to know a movie in this way..."
The vision-impaired man continues to speak to the camera, now smiling. Closed Caption translation: "I began to feel that my life is worth living.""

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