Sundance Institute

Jurors participating in the currently underway Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition walked out of the premiere of the Jonathan Majors-led bodybuilder drama “Magazine Dreams” on Friday night reports Variety.

The walkout was due to an incident in which the festival failed to provide adequate captioning for deaf and hearing-impaired audience members – including juror Marlee Matlin.

When a caption device provided to Matlin didn’t work, she and other jury members, including Jeremy O. Harris and Eliza Hittman, decided to walk out collectively. The device was repaired hours later, but it points to a larger issue behind the scenes of the festival regarding accessibility.

According to multiple sources for the trade, the jury has repeatedly expressed concerns to both Sundance and filmmakers that movies playing at this year’s festival should come with open captions – as seen at festivals like Cannes and Venice. They even sent a signed letter to festival filmmakers imploring them to allow ‘open caption DCP’ prints to screen.

However, several filmmakers have declined the request to provide open captions onscreen, citing costs and time associated. Some buyers even reportedly suggested that including captions could hurt the film’s asking prices in terms of a distribution deal.

Sources for the trade say the festival tried to work around the film team’s refusal to provide captions by giving Matlin alternative technology – which malfunctioned.

Sundance has made efforts in the past to accommodate people with various disabilities as part of its stated mandate of inclusivity. This has led to things like ASL interpreters on stage for opening remarks and Q&A sessions.

This ties in with a survey from language learning platform Preply last year which revealed around 70% of Gen Z say they use subtitles compared to 53% of millennials – the main reason being to improve understandability in regards to muddled audio.

The festival said jurors intend to screen the film, with proper captioning, as a group before the festival’s end. The Elijah Bynum-directed film itself has received some very good reviews whilst the praise for Majors’ volatile and vulnerable performance has been universally gushing and already generating awards talk for next year.


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