Sierra makes moviegoing an equal opportunity experience
By ANDREW MCGINN
New headsets at the Sierra Community Theatre intended for the hearing impaired recently worked wonders for a young moviegoer with autism.
Before, the child always had difficulty making it through a movie.
“He didn’t have a good experience with movies because it was so loud,” Sierra manager Dustin Gustoff said.
Wearing the new headphones — which enable the ambient noise to be turned down and the dialogue to be turned up as needed — the child sat through an entire movie, according to Gustoff.
Then there was the foreign exchange student who recently took advantage of a new personal closed-captioning reader that screws into a seat’s cup holder.
The student, according to Gustoff, found it easier to be able to read the dialogue of an American movie than to try listening to it.
With so many new accommodations for people of varying needs, the Sierra Community Theatre is living up to its name like never before.
The new devices are free to use for the asking, Gustoff said, but few patrons know of their availability.
They include 10 headsets, two of the cup holder-mounted closed-captioning readers and one pair of closed-captioning glasses that don’t require the wearer to take their eyes off the screen to read dialogue.
A year ago, the Sierra began experimenting with how it could better accommodate moviegoers with special needs, initially holding what it billed as “lower-volume Mondays” over five nights in September 2016.
On those nights, Gustoff also turned on open-captioning, in which the dialogue appears as text on the screen.
The new, more personalized aids are a vast improvement.
“This is so much better,” Gustoff said.
The theater — now about five years since reopening as a community-owned nonprofit with digital projection and sound — also recently put a second popcorn popper into service.
Donations received in January during the theater’s annual Classics Week financed the new popper at a cost of more than $5,000.
“We had an amazing Classics Week,” Gustoff said.
The new popper augments a popper that’s been in use at the local theater since at least 1986, when it was part of the Fridley Theatres chain of movie houses.
Classics Week will return for a fourth year this winter, Gustoff said.
Gustoff is also preparing for what likely will be the year’s biggest movie — “Star Wars: Episode VIII” — in December.
The movie, “The Last Jedi,” will feature the return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker after 34 years.
The Sierra didn’t open Episode VII, “The Force Awakens,” in 2015 due to a requirement by Disney that it play the single-screen local theater for four weeks.
Gustoff at that time was hesitant to hold any movie for so long.
This time, he said it’s a good possibility “The Last Jedi” will be in Jefferson on opening night, Dec. 15.
“Four weeks is four weeks,” he said. “As long as we promote it properly, I think we can do four weeks.”
May the Force be with them.