TIFF closed caption system fails, disappointing film critic who needs them

Michael McNeely thought he’d made a breakthrough when the Toronto International Film Festival offered three English language films with closed captioning for the first time this year.

Michael McNeely was told screening would have captions, but auditorium struggles with technology

Toronto film fan Michael McNeely, whose vision and hearing is impaired due to a genetic condition, wants the Toronto International Film Festival to ensure more of its movies come with closed captioning. (CBC)

Michael McNeely thought he'd made a breakthrough when the Toronto International Film Festival offered three English language films with closed captioning for the first time this year, but on Monday night he left the theatre disappointed.

The 28-year-old film critic, who suffers from a syndrome that affects his vision and hearing, went to a film that TIFF had promised would be closed-captioned. But the equipment failed to work.

McNeely says he arrived three hours early to see the movie, an Australian horror film titled Boys in the Trees.

"I was there at 6 p.m. and I started talking to the staff trying to make sure the captions, that the CaptiView machine would work, but it didn't," says McNeely.

McNeely made headlines when he went public with his push to get TIFF officials to make the festival more accessible. Until this year, the film buff only went to foreign films at the festival because they're subtitled. He told CBC News last week that he wanted TIFF to make the close-captioning technology more widely available so he could attend more movies. 

But he says the auditorium where the film was being screened Monday isn't compatible with the close captioning machines.

"The question is why are they screening the film at that auditorium? And why didn't they know that it would be a problem sooner?" McNeely said.

"I was very disappointed."

Before the festival kicked off this year, McNeely showed CBC News an email TIFF sent him that listed the English language films that would be closed captioned and the times they would screen.

McNeely says he was initially ecstatic but now he's frustrated, especially since he's being paid to review films at TIFF.

"Why do I have to waste my time? I gave up a lot of other films and I'm a movie critic, so my time is precious. I need to review as many films as I can, and when I can't it looks bad on me."

'You want to be like everyone else'

TIFF said in an email to CBC News Tuesday that the screening McNeely attended wasn't scheduled for closed captioning. But the email TIFF sent him prior to the festival said it would be.

Last week, TIFF sent CBC News a written statement saying it was working with McNeely to make its films more accessible.

"We are working with our distribution partners to ensure that as many prints as possible are compatible. We understand that that is an issue for some of our audience members and we will look into options to ensure all our patrons can access the screenings and experience in the most accessible means possible," the festival said in a statement.

"Ultimately, you want to be like everyone else. You want to be entertained and when it's so complicated you wonder why you bother sometimes," McNeely said.

But he says he's not going to give up; he plans to keep pushing to bring more accessibility to TIFF.