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Huw Jones Speaks at Subtitling Event

Huw Jones gave a paper on ‘The Market for Foreign Language Films in the UK’ at the Migrating Texts colloquia, Institute of Modern Languages Research, Senate House, London, on Friday 31 October, 2014.

He was speaking as part of a session on role of subtitles in fostering intercultural awareness and promoting the learning of modern foreign languages in the UK.

Huw explained in his paper, available here, that foreign language films occupy a fairly small niche within the British media landscape. While foreign language films account for 40 percent of UK cinema releases, they only generate only 2 percent of box office revenue. According to one recent EU survey, only 5 percent of British people regularly watch foreign language films.

Huw at Subtiling conf

Huw Jones speaking at the Migrating Text event, University College London. Image: Katie Brown/Twitter

Huw suggested audiences might be put off by subtitles, lower production values and cultural prejudices towards imported material. Foreign language films also suffer from distribution problems, with few UK cinemas dedicated to specialist programming.

Nevertheless, Huw also pointed out that although small, the market for foreign language films is extremely diverse, ranging from American and Chinese action-adventure features, to theatrical Bollywood theatrical musicals, to European auteur cinema. So while foreign language film tend to appeal most to the young-to-middle-aged, urban and well-educated, they potentially offer something for everyone.

The Migrating Texts event also heard form professional subtitlers, distributors and linguists. Dr Sonali Joshi from distributor Day for Night and curator of London’s Nordic Film Festival said that the decreasing distinction between the programming at independent cinemas and multiplexes means there is less space for foreign films. Day for Night screens many of its films in non-traditional places like universities and galleries to counter the lack of cinema space.

Sonali added that although VOD platforms made it easier to distribute foreign language material, small film can get completely lost of big VOD platforms, though specialist curated online services like MUBI offer a good alternative. She suggested that broadcasters could help develop the audience for foreign language films through reviving TV series like Moviedrome (1988-2000).

Lindsay Bywood from the Centre for Translation Studies, University College London, gave an overview of the work of professional subtitlers. She explained that while technology as made subtitling cheaper and easier to do, film producers do not give enough thought and attention to how their films are subtitled. Often there is no budget for subtitling because people don’t think of it until too late. Lindsay argued that standards would improve if subtitlers were involved earlier in the creative process.

Turning to the educational benefits of subtitling, Dr Laura McLoughlin from the NUI Galway explained how free subtitling software such as Clip Flair can be used to teach translating skills in the classroom. Meanwhile, Professor Kirsten Malmkjær from the University of Leicester reported on the findings of survey she conducted for the EU in 2013, which found that translation, both written and spoken can contribute to the learning of second languages.

The subtitling colloquia was the first in the series of three half-day workshops aimed primarily at postgraduate and early career researchers within modern languages, English studies and humanities. The event was organised by Carla Mereu Keating (British Academy/Leverhulme Trust early career researcher), Katie Brown (King’s College London) and Kit Yee Wong (Birkbeck, University of London).

Download a copy of Huw Jones’s paper on the Market for Foreign Language Films in UK.

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