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The Blind 'See' Movies Through One Man's Passion

The lights were dimmed in a room barely 20 square meters in size and the television set flickered into life.

"Welcome to Xinmu Cinema," a man of middle age said via microphone to a 30-strong audience. "I am Dawei and, once again, I will be your host this Saturday.

"I've just been to the hairdresser so I now have a crew cut. I'm wearing a gray coat with a hood, white shirt, blue jeans and a pair of brown shoes."

The music accompanying the opening titles began and the narration followed.

"On the screen is a white house with a private swimming pool, where the clear blue water shimmers in the sun," Dawei said. "Here comes the director's name ... Ridley Scott ... And now we are in a house, the blinds are swinging in the wind ... And through the blinds, you can see the clear water in the pool. The name of the film appears: 'Matchstick Man'."

Once a week for the past three years, Dawei, whose full name is Wang Weili, has narrated a film for the blind at the tiny cinema he set up at his own expense on Gulou West Street in Beijing's hutong area, just inside the Second Ring Road.

Since its inception, Dawei has showed more than 100 Chinese and foreign movies to a faithful band of followers.

"I named my cinema 'Xinmu,' or 'Eyes of the Heart,' because I wanted to make every film visible to them," he said.

Every Saturday, Li Chongming, 50, who lost his sight as a child, comes to Xinmu a couple of hours early, sits in the third row and waits for the film.

He records Dawei's narration with his MP3 player so, as he explains, he can "listen to the sounds and watch the movie repeatedly" after going home.

"My favorite is 'Titanic'," Li said. "Without Dawei, I could only listen to the dialogue in the movie, which confused me a lot because there were no visual aids; but thanks to this cinema, I have seen a gigantic ship and a beautiful love story."

Dawei first developed the idea in 2003 after volunteering to narrate "The Terminator" to a blind friend in his house.

"He was so overwhelmed by the fact he had watched a movie for the first time in his life, he threw his arms around my neck when it finished," said Dawei.

He gave up his prosperous business and, with his wife, opened the Hongdandan Culture and Education Center, a non-profit organization committed to skills training and an information service for the visually and audibly challenged.

The Xinmu Cinema is run by the center and on the wall hangs a banner which reads: "Unite the Handicapped and the Healthy, Enjoy Life."

The future of the cinema is far from certain because of a lack of funds. However, rather than money, Dawei is concerned about society's indifference to blind people, which prompted him to apply for and be selected as a torchbearer for the Beijing Olympic Games relay.

(Shanghai Daily February 13, 2008)

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