Captioned screenings at Lincoln movie theater

LINCOLN — Star Wars fans won’t have to hear to appreciate Han Solo’s intergalactic sarcasm.

Moviegoers who are deaf or hard of hearing will be able to read dialogue subtitles on the screen this Saturday at a Lincoln theater’s showing of “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” The Lincoln Grand Cinema will be offering what’s called open captioning twice weekly on screenings of selected new releases through Aug. 1.

Open captioning for regularly scheduled screenings of new movies is believed to be a first for a Nebraska commercial theater, said John Wyvill, director of the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. But it’s something that members of the deaf community have sought for a long time.

Moviegoers with limited hearing prefer reading dialogue captions on the screen as opposed to using portable viewing devices that display the scripts to individual moviegoers. They say the devices sometimes stop working during the film and it can be difficult to switch focus between the captions and the action on the screen.

The voluntary pilot project comes more than a year after a bill was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature that would have required theaters to offer limited on-screen captioning. Representatives from the theater industry opposed the measure, saying it would have caused financial losses because hearing customers won’t pay to see films featuring the captions.

The bill did not advance from committee, but it drew attention to the issue. Wyvill said he took the commission’s concerns to Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, who approached Marcus Theatres, the company that operates 68 theaters in Lincoln and other mostly Midwestern cities.

Mari Randa, the company’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the pilot program appears to be a first for the Milwaukee-based corporation.

Wyvill said some movie theaters in the state have offered occasional screenings of open caption films. Others will do so for large groups. A theater in Council Bluffs, home to the Iowa School for the Deaf, offers regular showings of captioned films.

The open caption screenings at the Grand will be offered at noon on Saturdays and 5 p.m. on Wednesdays through Aug. 1. Among the 10 films selected are “Incredibles 2,” “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” and “Adrift.”

The pilot program at the Lincoln theater presents an opportunity not only for people with hearing disabilities but for the broader community to show their support, Wyvill said. Roughly one in five Nebraskans has some form of hearing loss and that percentage climbs for older people, he added.

“We appreciate Marcus Theaters’ willingness to try,” he said. “We’ll know soon whether or not the city of Lincoln and its citizens are open to open captioning.”

Plus it could be kind of cool to see Wookiee translated into English.

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