Electronic Knowings: creating the audio description

When I created the essay film Electronic Knowings: A visual discussion with David and Judith MacDougall I purposely left space in the film for a creative audio description (AD). An AD describes the visuals to a vision impaired or blind member of the audience. A creative AD is often playful and subjective in how this is done.

The space I left in the film was not enough: it takes time to describe the visual world, and how that world feels when you see it. I recut the eight-minute film and extended it so that the AD could be incorporated effectively. The AD version of the film is 71 seconds longer than the original piece, which makes it over 10% longer. The process of adding in the creative AD generated a whole new film.

The AD that I created is inspired by an online session that I attended in 2021, run by Nottingham Contemporary, where Jaipreet Virdi and Collective Text talked about ways in which AD can be a creative part of the filmmaking process. I recommend watching this session to find out more about both AD and captions, and the exciting and creative ways in which they function.

Pablo Romero-Fresco and Kate Dangerfield, both experts in accessibility and films, gave feedback on my AD. I created multiple versions and, with their help, slowly began to understand how to script and cut this descriptive layer into the work in ways that interact with the film rather than simply sit on top of it. Kate Dangerfield pointed out that I had not described the haptic quality of the handheld footage as opposed to the stillness of the tripod footage: the nature of the shot is as much part of the visual as what is in the shot. She also reminded me to reveal who I am and how I feel. Pablo Romero-Fresco taught me that obscuring the original dialogue with the AD description is considered bad practice. To solve this, I used the gaps between individual words in the dialogue as space for the creative AD. I am fascinated by this weaving of words, and how separate meanings conveyed by two different sentences woven together, word next to word, can be understood.

The experience of creating an AD has influenced my general practice. I co-created a short experimental film Oak tree, gum tree: Screen collaborations across time zones (2021) with Christine Rogers, which uses description of images, but in this case providing insight that all audiences hear into how the filmmakers feel about the images. The act of working in the form of the creative AD has pushed me into new spaces in my own practice.

Electronic Knowings is a collaboration with Christine Rogers and is published by Screenworks.

You can directly access the AD version of Electronic Knowings here.

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