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The amazing film club – for people who have sight issues

Charlotte and her guide dog Christie

LOSNG her sight hasn't stopped Charlotte Bennie enjoying a lifelong love affair with cinema. Film runs in her family. She grew up next door to a cinema in Whithorn, her husband is a director of the cinema in Newton Stewart that's now run as a community asset, and family members have worked behind the scenes on everything from Bond and Star Wars to Harry Potter. Charlotte (67) has had the eye condition gyrate atrophy since her early forties. "On a good day, I can tell my laptop screen is on, see vague blobs as I walk around and tell where the cinema screen is, if a film is on. On a bad day, I bumble around in a mist, which can be golden, lilac or a range of pretty colours. Pretty but not very useful! "But I had been a film fan for about 30 years before this happened. Audio-description has made a big difference, bringing a hobby back to life for me." Right now, Charlotte is a member of a film club with a difference. All of its members have varying degrees of sight loss. They meet by phone every week to chat about the films they have chosen to watch and discuss as a group. "Blind and partially sighted people can still enjoy a good film now that more are available on the screen or DVD with audio-description," explains organiser Margaret Jackson, a community coordinator with the charity RNIB Scotland. Charlotte certainly does. "Many people think it is so odd that I am still addicted to films but I have been going to the pictures since the age of two, in 1955," she says. "I saw a cartoon and remember being terrified!" "My dad was part of a group which ran the picture house in Whithorn but that before I was born. For a while, we lived next door to it and I could sit in the garden or go up to my bedroom, and listen to the films playing. It's long been demolished. "Later in life, about the same time as my eyesight began to fail, the cinema in Newton Stewart closed but the community rallied around and raised the money to have it restored. We now have an art-deco cinema run by the community with seats the same as those in the Paris Opera House. My husband has been a director of it for many years and was its chairman for a while. "When the cinema reopened, I had to rely on whispered information from him to know what was happening. However, when the cinema went digital I was involved in persuading them to install audio-description, which by then was starting to be available on television. The first audio-described film I saw was 'Alice in Wonderland' and, walking home, I was telling my husband about effects which had been described but which even he hadn't noticed. "I always take my guide-dog Christie with me to the cinema. Usually, she sleeps through a film although I did have a dog previously who would sit up and lick the head and neck of anyone sitting in front of me! Another dog used to snore very loudly. Everyone heard him during quiet sections of a film and eventually, realised it was him and not me." Several members of Charlotte's family actually work in the British film industry. "My niece's father-in-law received a Lifetime Achievement BAFTA for his work on the special effects in the Harry Potter films. My niece's husband and her two boys also work in films, most recently, the new and unreleased Bond film, the JK Rowling spin-offs and the final 'Star Wars' films. Also, '1917', the most recent film I've been to at the cinema and one of the best war films I've ever seen." So what are her own favourites? "I have dreadful taste!" Charlotte confesses. "I love a good science-fiction film, thrillers, war films, horror films. I don't like American comedies, though, as I don't get their sense of humour. Nor do I like chick-lit type films. "I can never decide if it is worth seeing the film of a book. Saying which, I enjoyed the Potter films and the early Bond films, which were based on books. And, I've been lucky enough to watch 'Gone With the Wind' on a big screen many years ago but never managed to finish reading the book." "I am very fond of old classics like cowboy films and the type of gangster film which starred Edward G Robinson or Humphrey Bogart. In my opinion, the last, decent cowboy film was The Shootist, John Wayne's last film and a homage to both him and the western itself. "In the recent Oscars, I thought the best film should have been either '1917'' or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'; both were so good." A true film fan, she still much prefers watching a film on the big screen rather than on television. "There is something about a cinema audience all laughing together, or all gasping together. Watching a film at home cannot match that." Margaret Jackson points out that many of the RNIB film club's members didn't always have sight loss. "Films can hold a lot of personal memories for people, from childhood, first romantic outings, family gatherings, inspiration. Films can mean different things to different people, sometimes quite important things." The film club Margaret has organised meets by phone every Monday for an hour with people from all over the country joining in. Anyone wishing to join can email Margaret at margaret.jackson@rnib.org.uk. CHARLOTTE AND THE WICKER MAN IN 1973, the cult horror film The Wicker Man - starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland - was mainly shot on location acrorss Dumfries and Galloway. Charlotte has her own memories of it, and even a small memento… "Unfortunately, I missed the filming of 'The Wicker Man' as I was a student in Glasgow," she recalls. "My Mum kept me up to date, though. Back then, when a film was released, it could be ages before it eventually reached the provincial cinemas, so it was shown in Glasgow long before it reached Newton Stewart, although I think it had a premier in Stranraer, which had a cinema then. "With this delay in its appearance in Wigtownshire, I was always getting phone calls from my Mum asking me to take visiting locals to the cinema in Glasgow so they could see it. So I had to sit through the film on several occasions accompanied by douce wee wifies. It was the B-movie to 'Don't Look Now, and that's a seriously scary film! Now, both these films are decidedly risqué and there I'd be with the President of the Women's Guild and the like beside me! However, whenever they saw themselves, or anyone they knew in the film, they would shout, 'Oh look!' or similar. Never mind, they always paid for my ticket and popcorn and often had brought me some home-baking. "There's a scene in 'The Wicker Man' with a procession of weans gathered outside a house with a pale-blue storm door, decorated with a brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head. This was my Mum's house. The weans were pupils from Drummore Primary School. It was the lion's head which caught the director's attention; it looked so pagan, he said. As a reward, my Mum received a still photo of the procession, signed by the star of the film Edward Woodward." * The RNIB Helpline is available to help blind and partially sighted people and their families and carers on 0303 123 9999. RNIB's Need to Talk counselling service for people with sight loss can also be contacted through the Helpline or email needtotalk@rnib.org.uk.

<< back Published: 13 May 2020, 09:43

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