We offer fortnightly screenings which are branded as “relaxed” as part of our cinema programme. The films selected are usually new releases which are also screening at other times. The relaxed screenings involve certain modifications in terms of presentation (raised light level, lower sound, no ads or trailers) and we make the space less informal by including bean bags for extra seating with drawing materials and an activity area in the foyer for anyone who needs a break. Ticket prices are also reduced from our regular prices of £5.00 (children) / £6.50 (adults) to £4.00.
Why the project matters
Although Dundee Contemporary Arts offers other accessible screenings (soft-subtitles and audio description) on a regular basis, we were quite late in offering autism-friendly screenings. In part, this is because we did not have the mainstream family content in our programme on quite as regular a basis as some other venues (like multiplexes) would have. But we quickly realised that in fact, the experience was more important than what we are showing and that there is an audience who want to see a range of films in this setting.
To offer an opportunity for all audiences to engage with our cinema programme.
Relaxed screenings are now a core part of DCA programme activity, taking place on a fortnightly basis.
At present, all the films shown in our relaxed screenings slot are also showing in our Family Film Club so they do tend to be films aimed at younger audiences. This is simply to keep costs within our resources. However, we hope to look to expanding the selection so that we can offer this experience to a wider range of ages in the future.
We initially launched autism-friendly (now relaxed) screenings with the guidance and encouragement of a local advocacy group ASAD. They approached us initially to host their annual Christmas outing and in the early days when we were first starting to build up an audience, regularly planned group outings to coincide with our screenings. They offered invaluable advice on the conditions we should be looking for an gave us feedback on how to spread the word about the events more widely in the community.
All costs are covered by current programme and staffing budget. The relaxed screenings are now part of our core, regular activity.
Changing the name of the screenings from autism-friendly to relaxed (while keeping everything exactly the same in terms of how we deliver the events) has widened the audience to include a range of needs on the spectrum as well as simply families who want a more sensitive sensory experience at the cinema.
What didn’t work
While our partnership with the local advocacy group was invaluable on many levels, it also began to be seen as a private club for their members only. We had to handle that situation sensitively – ensuring that they understood how valuable the partnership was while still encouraging new audiences to attend. Also, as the leaders of this advocacy group changed, we could no longer rely on their support to publicise the screenings and had to find a new approach.
What you’d do differently if you did it again
We would have done it sooner.
We have been surprised that the change from “autism-friendly” to “relaxed” was met very favourably with the families with autistic children who welcomed the idea of a range of audiences coming to the screenings. They felt that it was more inclusive and gave their children a chance to gain social interaction skills in an environment they were already familiar with. Conversely, many attendees with children who are not on the spectrum felt it gave them an opportunity to build up an understanding of what additional needs those who are on the spectrum might need and appreciate that difference.
Knowledge & experience
We are definitely still learning but it has given all the staff more confidence. Budget permitting we would also like to branch out into dementia friendly screenings in the near future.