Sundance Movie Competition jury walks out over failure to offer subtitles for deaf juror

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This was not the standing ovation the filmmakers wanted.

Jury members for the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition walked out of the premiere of “Magazine Dreams” Friday after the festival failed to provide subtitles for deaf and hearing-impaired audiences — including judge Marlee Matlin, reports Variety.

Several of the judges — including Jeremy Harris, Eliza Hittman and Matlin — left the screening after Matlin’s caption device didn’t work properly. The device was later repaired, but revealed the festival’s inability to provide wider access to movies.

“We have all traveled to Utah to celebrate independent film and those who devote their lives to making them,” read letter sent by the judges. “There’s a thrill to sit in a room with others who love films and cheer for them together and Sundance has been an important place for each of us to do that over our varied careers. The U.S. independent cinema movement began as a way to make film accessible to everyone, not just those with the most privileges among us.”

“As jury our ability to celebrate the work that all of you have put into making these films has been disrupted by the fact that they are not accessible to all three of us,” the letter continued.

Director Elijah Bynum and stars Taylour Paige, Jonathan Majors and Haley Bennett attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Magazine Dreams” Premiere on January 20.
Arturo Holmes/2023 Getty Images

According to several sources, many jury members expressed their concerns to both Sundance and filmmakers that films that are being screened should have open captions.

Several filmmakers declined the use of captions saying that it cost too much time and money. Other sources say that film buyers argued against captions saying that they would limit the film’s asking price.

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“Our goal is to make all experiences (in person and online) as accessible as possible for all participants. Our accessibility efforts are, admittedly, always evolving and feedback helps drive it forward for the community as whole,” said Sundance CEO Joana Vicente in a statement.

Jury members for the film festival's U.S. Dramatic Competition walked out of the premiere of “Magazine Dreams” Friday after the festival failed to provide subtitles for deaf and hearing-impaired audiences -- including judge Marlee Matlin.
Several filmmakers declined the use of captions saying that it cost too much time and money.
David Becker/Getty Image

As of this year, Sundance has attempted to become more inclusive by hiring two ASL interpreters during opening remarks and Q and sessions.

Festival sources said that they attempted to work around “Magazine Dreams” refusal with the malfunctioning technology. Officials also said the screen was delayed 45 minutes to “technical issues.”

Sundance said that the judges will see the film before the festival ends.