Sundance Jury Walks Out of Magazine Dreams Premiere for Lacking Caption Accessibility for Fellow Juror Marlee Matlin Movie
Jury members for Sundance's U.S. Dramatic Competition left the premiere after it failed to supply hearing-impaired viewers with accessible captioning.
The collective jury, consisting of Jeremy O. Harris, Eliza Hittman, and Marlee Matlin, abandoned Elijah Bynum's film premiere about a steroid-addled amateur bodybuilder who struggles to find his place among the community after a captioning device provided to Matlin malfunctioned.
Johnathan Majors' shredded physique couldn't persuade Sundance's U.S. Dramatic Competition jury from skipping out on Friday's premiere of Magazine Dreams.
Filmmakers are encouraged by the festival to provide accessibility options for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers like Matlin. However, some filmmakers have declined to add captioning due to the cost and time demands of producing a secondary film print. While the Sundance Film Festival doesn't require filmmakers to include accessibility features with their film screeners -- despite the jury's repeated insistence they do -- this year's application for press credentials does ask SFF attendees if they require access to captioning.
Subsequently, the jury signed a letter (obtained by Variety) that strongly urges festival filmmakers to allow 'open caption DCP' prints to screen:
“We have all traveled to Utah to celebrate independent film and those who devote their lives to making them. 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 a 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.”
“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 a whole.”
In recent years, Sundance has made deliberate efforts to accommodate attendees and participants with wide-ranging accessibility requirements. In 2020, the festival ensured Crip Camp co-director James Lebrecht, born with spina bifida and used a wheelchair, could attend every major event and screening. This year, ASL interpreters were assigned to accompany leadership and filmmakers' remarks during post-screening Q&A panels.
To its credit, the festival did make an effort to provide Matlin with an accessibility device when the Magazine Dreams filmmakers refused to add captioning themselves. Unfortunately, however, the auxiliary captioning device failed to work at the time of the film's premiere screening, which ultimately prompted the jury's premature departure.