This month’s London Short Film Festival will see the first live pilot of the National Theatre smart caption glasses system, a development supported by the UK Cinema Association’s Technology Challenge Fund.

The Fund, launched in October 2018, aims to find an affordable and inclusive solution to the delivery of subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing people through closed captioning, where subtitles are visible only to those who need them.

Over the last decade, the UK cinema sector, with the support of the UK Cinema Association, has worked hard to meet the needs of deaf and hearing-impaired audiences, increasing the number of subtitled screenings significantly. There are now over 1,500 subtitled screenings in UK cinemas every week. But the delivery of such ‘open caption’ shows, where the subtitles are visible to audience members whether they need them or not, remains a challenge, particularly for smaller cinema operators.

The National Theatre solution, which is one of two chosen for a final stage of support as part of the Fund, displays a synchronised transcript of dialogue and sound directly onto the lenses of a pair of specially-adapted glasses, giving users the freedom to experience captions how and when they want to. Accenture and the National Theatre developed the service using Moverio BT-350 smart glasses, which are designed and manufactured by Epson specifically with arts and culture applications in mind.

Launched in 2018, following a year of testing with theatre audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing, the National Theatre smart caption glasses have been in use for 80 per cent of their productions on the South Bank.

The live test at the London Short Film Festival – part of that event’s ongoing commitment to accessibility – will see the glasses made available to cinema-goers at all LSFF 2020 UK Competition screenings with support not just from the Fund, but also from the BFI Audience Fund (awarding funds from The National Lottery), BFI Southbank, National Theatre and Epson.

Welcoming this latest development, UK Cinema Association Chief Executive Phil Clapp said:

“It’s hugely exciting to have reached this milestone in the progress of our Technology Challenge Fund; the first genuinely live in-cinema of the National Theatre’s subtitling glasses solution. Our aim all along has been to help develop technology which can overcome many of the barriers of the current ‘open caption’ approach and make the cinema experience more accessible and inclusive for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

“This next step we hope brings that outcome a little closer and we look forward to working with the team behind the technology and colleagues at LSFF and the BFI to make it a reality.”

Further details on the screenings involved, and the booking process for the glasses can be found on the full press notice here.