AS Aziz Bouallouchen walks into the foyer of a plush cinema in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, he is given not a pair of 3D glasses that one can expect to find in many cinemas around the world but a pair of headphones.
Bouallouchen, in his 20s, is no ordinary cinema-goer and this is no ordinary cinema.
Every seat is equipped with special devices to enhance the enjoyment of blind and partially-sighted film-lovers.
The film being shown is Lalla Hoby, a popular Moroccan comedy about a man who crosses the Straits of Gibraltar in order to look for his wife who has left him for another man and gone to live in Belgium.
Released in 1996, it is the only North African film to have been adapted to carry audio description.
Wearing headphones plugged into small receivers in the seats’ arms, Bouallouchen listens to a voice explaining the action sequences, body language, the scenery — the “in-between” moments without which a film’s meaning is lost.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” Bouallouchen says. “I haven’t been able to ‘see’ a film since I suffered a disease that robbed me of my eyes.”
“But now I can feel part of the world of cinema,” he says
Bouallouchen lost his sight in 2005 after a rare disease called Behcet’s syndrome attacked his optic nerve. Seven years on, he is sitting next to sighted people, “watching” a film.
And, thanks to the audio description, everyone laughs at the same time at the antics of the hero of Lalla Hoby as he falls out of a small boat crossing the Straits of Gibraltar.
Morocco is leading the way in Africa with the use of this new technology
A voice talks “alongside” the film’s action and provides a more inclusive cinema experience for visually-impaired people.
“We are the only country in Africa and the Arab world that offers this opportunity to the blind,” says Nadia el-Hansali of the Marrakesh International Film Festival Foundation.
The foundation — which hosts the annual influential film festival, where audio-described films have been screened for the past two years — is funding the adaption of the mainstream films for blind people.
Eight films now carry audio description, including L’Atlante (1934), The African Queen (1951) and East of Eden (1955).
Over the next 18 months another six will be adapted. — BBCOnline.