Movies for mind’s eye in Balkans

BELGRADE (Reuters) – «From a bird’s eye view, the camera zooms in on an ordinary American provincial town, small houses come in closer and get bigger until we swoop into one of them, where a girl lies on her bed.» The blind audience listens intently to the voice in the left earphone, describing the first scene of «American Beauty» in Serbian. The right earphone carries the opening score and the first few words of the main character’s monologue in English. The small screening room in downtown Belgrade, simply equipped with chairs and tables fitted with headphones, is the first cinema for the blind in the Balkans. Run by a Serbian association of the blind, it aims to reach the 25,000 registered blind people in the former Yugoslavia who understand the language previously called Serbo-Croat, now split into its regional variants. «I got the idea a long time ago, when trying to enjoy some films with my wife,» says Branko Matic, the head of the Homer Association for the Blind. «It was impossible for her to read the subtitles and at the same time describe to me what is happening, what the scene looks like, what are the expressions on the actors’ faces.» The adaptation, which costs about 80,000 dinars (1,000 euros) per movie, is done by volunteers, who read out a detailed description of the scene and actors’ movements, and also role-play the dialogue in Serbian. «By listening, we can now see in our minds what you can easily see with your eyes,» Matic said. The Serbian voice-over goes only into the left channel of the earphones. The right channel plays the original sound of the movie, including dialogue in the original, because, as Matic puts it, «who can replace Laurence Olivier in Hamlet?» Watching takes practice, and concentration. Matic, who lost his sight as a child, said that for people who were able to see for a part of their lives it was not difficult to visualize what was being described. For those born blind, it was not much different from a radio play. «It goes real fast,» said Suzana, 15, after the film ends. «You have to concentrate really hard to experience it and I may not pay attention to every detail, but it’s not so important what color a chair is or how flowers are arranged in a vase. I care about the people much more.» «American Beauty» was one of the first 10 films to be adapted, along with «Citizen Kane,» «The Pianist,» and «The Passion of the Christ.» They were adapted and shown at a three-day festival to celebrate the cinema’s opening. A new film will be shown each month. The association aims to adapt the 100 best movies of all time and send them to libraries for the blind in Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia, where there are very few facilities for the blind. For Suzana and her friend Biljana, 14, it’s a new beginning. «Because I can hear where the characters are at any moment, how they react, how they move. I imagine the scene in my head,» said Biljana, who looks forward to comparing her version of the movie with Suzana.

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