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Blind watchers: A cinema for the visually impaired

Dian Arthen
Dian Arthen

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, May 2, 2016  /  03:44 pm
Blind watchers: A cinema for the visually impaired

Visually impaired people and volunteers sit side by side during the movie screening of "Keramat" (Sacred) in Jakarta on April 17. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

As a young woman hopped off a motorcycle in the parking space of Paviliun 28 in South Jakarta's Kebayoran Baru area, a staff member emerged form the café-slash-cinema to greet and lead her inside. 

The young woman, named Mega, was there to attend an event labeled Bioskop Bisik (whisper cinema).

Unlike regular cinemas, Bioskop Bisik is designated to help visually impaired people enjoy the silver screen, with the help of volunteers describing the scenes.

Cici Suciati, the mastermind behind the event, told that she had had the idea after digital agency Think.Web, where she works as head of social media, conducted a project called “YouTube for the Blind”.

Bioskop Bisik screens the movie "Keramat" (Sacred) for visually impaired people in Jakarta on April 17. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

“While we were waiting for that project to finish, we had the idea for Bioskop Bisik. The first screening was on Jan. 17 last year - we screened Janji Joni (Joni’s Promise) at Galeri Indonesia Kaya [in Central Jakarta],” she recalled.

Partnering with nonprofit organization Mitra Netra foundation, which focuses on improving opportunities for the visually impaired, Cici reached out to the blind of South Jakarta; friendships quickly formed.

During the latest get-together, 12 visually impaired people made their own way to the venue. Some took ojek (motorcycle taxis), while one group shared a mobile-app taxi.  

Actress Poppy Sovia, who stars in "Keramat" (Sacred), is one of the volunteers at Bioskop Bisik on April 17. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

Inside the spacious area, they were busy chatting with 10 other first-timers and regular volunteers. Dina, a regular participant, said she had volunteered between five and seven times.

“This is a new and fun way of volunteering. I can give something to others in a way that’s never been done before and I’m able to see differently from their perspective,” she said.

Cici had nothing but praise for the volunteers: “We recruit volunteers through social media; I am unendingly thankful to those willing to come and spend their weekends with us, without being paid.”

Mega’s entrance was greeted with a flurry of excitement from Dina, who walked her sightless friend to a corner table, where they sat down for a catch-up.

“I remember that one time I cried watching Guru Bangsa Tjokroaminoto [The Nation’s Teacher: Tjokroaminoto] and it was Dina who guided me through every scenes of the movie,” recalled Mega.

Visually impaired people walk together with the volunteers after Bioskop Bisik's movie screening of "Keramat" (Sacred) in Jakarta on April 17.(The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

Predominantly Indonesian films are screened at Bioskop Bisik, with sponsorship from the movie’s director or production company. The owner of Paviliun 28 has agreed to hold the event in the second week of every month.

Cici said she hoped that people would be encouraged to create this kind of activity in other parts of Jakarta.

“You don’t need a huge team to arrange this kind of event; there are still a lot of visually impaired people out there in Bekasi and Pluit […] I hope this event can show how normal these people are; they laugh at the same jokes, they go to malls, read newspapers, take ojek. All that separates them from us is their inability to see.”

The theater door finally opened for the moviegoers to enter. 1986 classic Kejarlah Daku Kau Kutangkap (Chase Me and You’ll Catch Me) was being screened, and the audience settled comfortably on blue cushions big enough for three to four people, with each participant paired with one volunteer seated next to them.

Soon afterwards, the opening scenes started playing on the screen, and the room was filled with the sound of whispers. (kes)

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