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An enjoyable afternoon at the theater to experience a film one hopes to see is something many people take for granted. Check the listings, buy a ticket and hopefully get there a little bit before the movie begins so there’s time to get a snack and be seated for the coming attractions and the start of the film.
One of the goals of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville is to make that experience accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Starting on Sunday, the theater is bringing back its monthly sensory-friendly screenings as a regular fixture after a successful pilot run in 2023. The screenings are geared toward people who would feel overwhelmed by the typical movie experience, many of whom, but not all are those on the autism spectrum, said Paige Grand Pre, marketing manager at the Jacob Burns who also co-chairs the film center’s DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility) Committee.
Grand Pre said the lights are turned up, the volume on the sound is lowered and there are no trailers or advertisements. The audience is also free to talk and move around as needed.
“The idea is that it’s providing a space for individuals who might find sitting in a totally dark theater completely silent for the duration of the film uncomfortable or unnerving,” Grand Pre explained. “It’s a way to both avoid overstimulation with the lights a little bit up and the sound a little bit down. It’s giving people the space and freedom to be themselves in the theater.”
While it primarily caters to moviegoers on the spectrum, the screenings during the pilot can appeal to others as well, particularly parents with young children who may be leery of bringing their kids to the theater because of concern they will annoy other patrons, she said. There may also be other moviegoers who just might feel uncomfortable with other aspects of the traditional screening.
A key component for the Burns is to select movies that would be appropriate for the population, steering away from those that offer too much sensory stimulation or violence.
Having started mid-year, the most popular sensory-friendly screening during the pilot phase of the program was, to no one’s surprise, “Barbie,” which also happened to be the theater’s number one movie of the years, Grand Pre said.
She said the film center has been collaborating with the Pleasantville Special Education PTA (SEPTA) and The Nicholas Center, an organization with a location in Pleasantville that works with autistic individuals to provide vocational training, employment opportunities, interaction with the community and other programs and services. Together, movies are selected that would be best for those who would gravitate toward the screening.
Having had plenty of children’s programming at the film center, bringing the in-theater movie experience to a wider population is an ongoing focus for the Burns, Grand Pre said.
“So as far as our initiative of extending our family programs, we also wanted to have more accessible programming,” Grand Pre said.
This Sunday kicks off what the film center is planning on being a recurring monthly screening. There will be a special singalong version of the animated Disney musical “Frozen.” On Sunday, Feb. 4, the next scheduled sensory-friendly screening, “Soul” will be shown, about a middle school band teacher whose life hasn’t gone as he had planned. Both movies will begin at 11 a.m.
Films that will be part of the lineup of additional screenings will be announced in the near future.
Grand Pre said the plan is to have the screenings on Sundays for now, and as the film center receives feedback from the public, that schedule can be adjusted.
And for those film buffs who might want to take in something different, anyone is welcome to attend, she said.
“The movies are for everyone,” Grand Pre said. “We want to provide a setting where people can experience movie-going that’s not in a traditional format.”
For more information about the sensory-friendly screenings and the rest of the Jacob Burns Film Center programming, visit www.burnsfilmcenter.org.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/