7 takeaways from 'Films in Translation'

Image from www.filmsintranslation.org

On 26 May I visited London to attend 'Films in Translation – All is not lost' in the beautiful BFI. It was a hot day — hopefully not the only summer's day we are going to experience this year — and I’ve spent it indoors, in a dark BFI amphitheatre, listening to academics speak about translating films. Following recent terrorist attacks, the security measures were tightened and everyone was searched before entry. However, neither the attacks nor the heat stopped me from visiting London and attending this eye-opening roundtable discussion.

Image: Craig Morey

Which brings me to my next point: what was discussed? I am sure that many of you think 'subtitles' when you hear ‘films in translation’. And you are right. Subtitling is one way of making films accessible to a wider audience. However, we also have dubbing, surtitles and audio description. The roundtable discussion covered these different media.

One of the main topics discussed was the difference between dubbing and subtitling and which country uses which. The general view was that it’s a matter of what each country is used to. Dubbing, however, often relates to censorship and how accepting is the receiving culture.

Keep in mind that when a film is subtitled you can hear the original language and you can see the subtitles in your language. If you understand both languages, you may even be able to compare between the two and criticise the subtitler’s work. When a film is dubbed, you lose this access to the original language, so you don’t know if something has been omitted and you are not exposed to the ‘foreign’.

Image from www.filmsintranslation.org

But what is foreign? What makes a film foreign?

- "A film not in English is a foreign film".

- "OK, but what about Welsh films?" "Are Welsh films foreign to a UK audience?"

- "No, not Welsh films."

- "But Welsh is not English."

- "Yes, OK, then a language other than the languages of the United Kingdom."

- "Sure, OK. But what if you are French living in the UK? Is a French language film foreign to you?"

And how about Hollywood productions, such as The Inglorious Bastards, where the script is in more than one languages? Are this type of films foreign? Does the filming location matter perhaps? How about, for instance, Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Lobster? It’s in English, but it is produced in Ireland.

Then, when you walk into a shop selling movies, such as Blackwells in Oxford, there is this ‘World Cinema’ section. Does the UK not belong to the world anymore? I mean it won’t belong to the EU soon, but we are not planning to remove ourselves from the world —right?

Furthermore, the topic of fansubbing was brought up during the Q&A session with a student expressing their concern around rights. They’ve fansubbed a film and then a Chinese television network took their work and used it.

The conclusion here was that if you fansub you probably don’t own the rights. Intellectual property Law is breached and the moment your initial action is illegal, your position will not be so strong, therefore you cannot take any legal action against someone who’s taken your work and used it. Moral message: always check copyright permissions with the owner.

Films in Translation Project Co-Investigator, Louisa Desilla, presented something particularly interesting, not only because it was based on Greek subtitling, but also because her research data is about people’s perspective.

Louisa went out and asked viewers of Bridget Jone’s Diaries what they thought about specific subtitles of the film and what connotations they’ve made after reading them. The results were not only hilarious but also intriguing and fascinating as they reveal that perception is very much influenced by everyone's unique ways of experiencing life.

So my takeaways from the day are that:

  1. Indeed, not all is lost in translating films. Some things are lost. Some things are gained. By translating a script in a different way, perhaps away from the source, or by omitting part of it even, our audiences will always gain something.

  2. Cultures, countries and social groups are all used to different audio-visual stimuli; it could be dubbing (audio and spoken) or it could be subtitles (visual and written).

  3. Some people like subtitles, some people hate them.

  4. Some people know subtitles are there and they are annoyed by that, others, don't even notice them.

  5. We can’t always translate what’s there, and sometimes we shouldn’t because it would make no sense for the audience we’re translating for, and hopefully we are translating for the target audience and not for the person who commissioned the work to us.

  6. Given all the technical restrictions, the job is certainly a tough one.

  7. And if you’re a fansubber, make sure you gain permissions before you start doing what you’re doing.

'Films in Translation – All is not lost' was a roundtable discussion part of a wider project. If you wish to find out more about the project, news and other events visit www.filmsintranslation.org

Many thanks to the organisers, the coordinators, the roundtable guests, but foremost many thanks to Dr Marie-Noëlle Guillot and Dr Louisa Desilla for their research and efforts made to promote audiovisual translation and what we know about it today.

Vasiliki is a Translator, Interpreter, and Consultant, founder of Greek to Me Translations, a company that helps businesses communicate their brand, products and messages to their target audience. She can help your organisation achieve a global presence by implementing a translation process that works, using translation technologies and best practices. She believes that translation strategy, when well-embedded within the overall business strategy, delivers not only words but vision. Find out more about how she can help you or get in touch with her at vp@grtome.com to discuss your translation process and any challenges you have.

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