In the cinema the lights go down. The music starts to play, when suddenly you hear a male voice speaking over it: "The movie begins, it is called The Door, on the screen there is a piece of glass with lots of blobs on it…"
On the afternoon of January 23, an unusual screening took place in the Beijing Stellar Cineplex; dozens of blind people gathered to "watch" the new film by director Li Shaohong, The Door. Similar activities have been previously organized by the Hongdandan Education and Culture Exchanges Center, but this was the first time a large cinema was used for the event.
The group met regularly throughout the past two years in a small house on West Gulou Street in Beijing. Every Saturday morning at 9:30, blind friends would gather to enjoy the fun brought by a TV, a DVD player, and a loudspeaker. The "narrators" were volunteers from the center, including the founder Da Wei. Their limited space was shabby but warm, inspiring a profound name -- "Eyes of Heart Cinema."
In 2003, Da Wei and his wife Zheng Xiaojie rented a courtyard home and set up the center to provide skill training for the blind. A year later, he began broadcasting a radio program aimed at sharing blind people's perspectives on the world around them. The program was well received while featured on Beijing Radio.
During the summer of 2005, a blind friend came to visit Da Wei while he was watching The Terminator. "It is an action movie, so the sounds are very furious, you know, explosions and fights. Since my friend kept asking me what was happening, I began to tell him what I saw on the screen. When the movie ended, he was so excited that he carried me in his arms and shouted with tears, 'Finally I can see movies!'"
This experience enlightened Da Wei. "Why don't I have a cinema for the blind to listen to movies?" he wondered. The center embraced the idea, and the "Eyes of Heart Cinema" was set up that same month.
"Narrating movies for the blind is not that simple. You have to understand the people's feelings and know what they really want," Da Wei explains. He often closes his eyes while at home and walks around the living room, bedroom, and kitchen to help better understand what it means to be blind. For most movies, Da Wei needs three to four hours of preparation before they are presented.
Word travels fast in Beijing, and the weekly meetings are gaining popularity. Some dedicated film fans will travel over an hour by bus just to attend the movies. 45-year-old Yang Linshan is a loyal participant. "I lost my sight when I was young," he said. "Listening to movies has become an important part in my life. I look forward to the Saturday movie all week long."
Da Wei and his wife have spent all they have on maintaining the center and the cinema. They even sold their house and now live in a relative's home. The center is a nonprofit organization, so it depends on donations from caring citizens and support from businesses. All the employees work voluntarily.
So far, over 1,000 people have enjoyed the "Eyes of Heart Cinema," and Da Wei himself has presented about 60 films. He hopes the next step will be producing narrated copies that people can use at home. Several film companies are interested in the idea and have provided him with the rights for around a dozen movies.
Beyond the cinema, his dream is to someday open a theme park for the disabled with models of famous architecture from around the world. In this way, the blind can interactively experience large buildings, monuments, even small roads and bridges using their sense of touch.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiaohua, January 31, 2007)