Windows to a new world

08:56, March 17, 2010      

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CCTV'S presenter Nige Maiti narrating film for the blind.

Located in an ordinary courtyard in Gulou Dajie in Beijing is a small cinema. Packed with people every Saturday, this one-room movie theater contains a TV set, a DVD player and a hi-fi speaker. What makes it special is that all of the audience members are visually impaired or blind.

Recently Ouyang Zhiwei, news presenter of CCTV's Channel 2, volunteered and narrated Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire for the cinema's unique audience.
Li Ming is in his 20s and lost his eyesight when he was little. He likes to record the commentary of the narrator with an MP3 player so that he can replay and enjoy it many times over.

"My favorite film is Titanic. I used to listen to it from TV at home. There were many scenarios that I couldn't understand because I can't see the picture," he said. "But here, I felt as if I could really see the big ship as well as the beautiful love story, thanks to the Xin Mu Cinema."

Xin Mu Cinema was set up in 2004 by Wang Dawei and his wife Zheng Xiaojie. Once a successful businessman, Wang said his concept of narrating films for the blind began by accident.

"In 2003, I invited a blind friend to my home. Terminator was on TV so I tried to explain to my friend what the story was about," Wang recalled. "He was so excited after hearing my narration that he picked me up and whirled me around in circles. For the first time, he was blown away by the magic of cinema. He said it was the happiest time in the 30 years of his life."

Also the founders of Hong Dandan Education and Culture Exchange Center, a non-government organization dedicating to helping the blind, Wang and Zheng set up the cinema to bring the magical world into more people's lives.

"The reason why we named the cinema Xin Mu (Frame of the Mind) is that we want to lighten up the hearts of our blind friends through narratives by the presenter who can deliver barrier-free visual information," Wang told the Global Times.

"At the time, we were planning a program to train blind anchor people for the radio station, but except for acquiring standard putonghua, we found that the visually impaired faced more challenging tasks like expressing themselves and integrating into society, which were due to their visual impediments."

"So the idea of establishing a cinema for the blind became even firmer in my mind because it can facilitate communication between the visually disabled and the rest of society."

Since its establishment, Xin Mu Cinema has welcomed over 5,000 visually impaired cinemagoers and has screened over 200 films, all free of charge.

Over 500 volunteers from all walks of life narrate the films, from university students, office workers, lawyers and media professionals.

"I lost my vision about 10 years ago and my life has been like a black hole ever since," said one audience member. "My life was empty until the Xin Mu Cinema allowed me to see the world again and brought me back the memory of a happy life."

51-year-old Li Guizhi used to stay indoors every day with a small radio to keep herself company. She said that after visiting Xin Mu, her life changed completely.
"Nowadays, I spend more time dressing myself up. My friends told me that I look more optimistic and in a much better mood," Li said. "It is Xin Mu that broadens our horizons."

Recently, Xin Mu has teamed up with volunteer groups from big enterprises including CCTV Business Channel, Dell and Starbucks, in an effort to provide better services for the blind.

"One thing we've been stressing during the training of volunteers is that marginalized communities like the visually impaired require more professional services," Wang said.

"Therefore, it is important to understand the world of the blind by experiencing it firsthand. At the beginning, we'll usually ask volunteers to walk up a few staircases or have dinner with their eyes blindfolded. Then they can understand the fear and helplessness of the blind. Apart from that, we also encourage volunteers to understand the film really well and present it in a skillful way."

"For all volunteers who are involved in this program, the most rewarding part is spiritual growth and better understanding of life," Wang said. "Only through the growth of the disabled and the rest of society together can the whole society develop."

Wang said his team is working on establishing the first digital library for the blind in China by donating recordings of their narratives and making them available for use on radio programs.

He and his colleagues are also busy providing training programs to different branches of Xin Mu Cinemas across the country, including Changchun, Dalian, Tianjin, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

"If we can't bestow a pair of new eyes on the blind, at least we hope Xin Mu can open a window of communication for them."

According to statistics provided by Hong Dandan Education and Culture Exchange Center, there are about 17 million visually impaired people in China.

Source: Global Times
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