5. Contact a Family Screening Events

Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey
Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey

From February 2013 until November 2015 Contact A Family organised a series of cinema events specifically for disabled children and their families. The programme resulted in 51 screenings in 37 venues around Wales (a full list of the participating venues can be found in Appendix C) and was responsible for 999 individual family trips to the cinema. It was made possible with funding by BBC Children in Need and the Big Lottery Fund. Funding from Film Hub Wales provided for a special Contact a Family Cymru 15 year anniversary event at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and 23 more supportive environment screenings in local authorities in Wales.

The CaF screening events were held at a range of independent venues around Wales, a mixture of dedicated cinemas and mixed-use venues (combining regular film screenings with live performances). Contact A Family worked in collaboration with each venue to deliver the events.

Venues were selected through a variety of means, some on the basis of pre-existing relationships with Contact A Family or their partner organisations and schools, and others because they were located in particularly underserved areas. 

Screenings were free for families to attend, and a free lunch was provided wherever possible. The events were initially advertised via email or through flyers distributed by CaF or their partner organisations and schools. Bookings were taken through Facebook, email or telephone.

Films chosen for the screening events were popular, family-oriented titles (exampled of titles shown in 2015 were Inside Out, Minions and Paddington) and that had a fairly universal appeal (i.e. not too gender-focussed). Film bookings were mostly arranged by the venues, but on those occasions that the chosen venue didn’t screen regular films, titles were booked via Filmbank, a UK-based distributer of DVDs and BluRays for public screenings. (www.filmbank.co.uk)

The booking process

“We focus on the needs of the family, rather than the diagnosis” (CaF staff member) 

A central part of the CaF approach is to adopt a personalised approach to speaking with families. This approach has resulted in an enhanced booking process, which made an important contribution to the success of the CaF film screenings programme. Rather than the booking process happening over the phone in a single brief call, as would be the case in a regular venue, families are taken through a more in-depth process, designed to find out about their individual needs. Over the course of the process, parents are reassured that their needs are being catered for.

Bookings are taken through Facebook, text or over the phone and over the course of the booking process, CaF and the family may have several conversations about the event. The booking form will contain as much information as possible, including amount of children, their ages and dietary needs and any concerns that they might have, and that they want to share. This ensures that CaF has all the information that they need to accommodate/cater for the family, and assures the family that their needs have been acknowledged. Having this information on file also means that the family do not go through the lengthy process again if they want to attend future screenings.

A few days before the screening, CaF will contact the family via text, partly as a reminder about the screening, but also to give them the opportunity to ask any questions. The initial text will be a blanket text (a single message, sent to many people), but if somebody replies with a question, the answer will be more individual. Having a family’s details recorded at the point of booking makes this process more personal.

Issues (Contact A Family screenings)

Interviews conducted with CaF staff highlighted a range of issues described by parents when making bookings for screening events. These are outlined in the following section, accompanied by descriptions of the processes and techniques that were used to address the issues.  

Definition of ‘disabled’

Issue - Some parents experience anxiety about having to prove that their child has an additional need, and CaF staff report being asked whether they require proof of a child’s disability.

Solution – CaF don’t ask for any proof of a child’s disability.

Financial anxiety

Issue - A CaF survey conducted in 2014 found that 83% of parents of disabled children go without basic amenities such as food and heating in order to cover the additional cost of caring for them (CaF, 2014). This leads to concerns that attending a screening event will cost them money that they can’t afford.

Answer – CaF screenings are free to attend.

Judgement of other parents

Issue - Some parents were concerned that their disabled child’s or children’s behaviour would attract unwanted attention from other families.  

Answer – Parents were assured during the booking process that any kind of behaviour was acceptable during the screening events.

Location of venue

Issue - Some of the venues at which screenings are held are in remote locations, and may not be well signposted.

Answer – Parents were given full directions to the venue well in advance of the events.


Issue - Some venues may not have readily accessible parking facilities, and parents may have to park far from the venue.

Answer – Parents were given information about the venue well in advance of each event, including where to park. 

Remembering an event

Issue - With the additional pressures that come with caring for a disabled child, parents may forget that they have booked onto an event.

Answer – Contact a Family kept in touch with families after the initial booking conversation, sending them a reminder a few days before the screening via text or email, and responding to any questions.  

Sitting through a film

Issue - One of the characteristic features of autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a short attention span, and parents of children are often concerned that their child not being able to sit through an entire film will be disruptive to other children.

Answer – A ‘break-out room’ was provided at each venue, so that children would have the opportunity to go somewhere other than the cinema for a while.

Sensory issues

Issue – Another characteristic feature of autism is an over-sensitivity to loud noises or extreme lighting conditions, both of which are typically found in a cinema auditorium.

Answer – Parents are informed in the initial literature advertising the event that the screenings are conducted under ‘autism friendly’ conditions, which includes lowered volume and reduced lighting conditions.    


Issue - Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond their control, families are not able to attend a screening that they have booked for. The process of arranging a trip to the cinema can be a time-consuming one for any family, and this is even more the case for families with disabled children.

Answer – Parents are assured that they will not be penalised in any way, should they not attend a screening that they have book onto.

Lack of disabled toilet facilities

Issue - Many venues do not have disabled toilet facilities.

Answer – Parents are given full details about the venue, including toileting facilities. If none are available, they are given information regarding alternatives.

The screenings

Before the screening

Before the day of the CaF screening, many venues will be available for pre-visits from families, so that children have the opportunity to see what the venue looks like.

On the day of the screening, the venue is opened at least 30 minutes before the screening. When families arrive, a member of CaF staff greets them at the door, answers any questions that they have, and directs them towards a central waiting area, where there is seating, refreshments and activities for children.

The greeting is done without using a table, which can create a barrier between the member of staff and the family. The person greeting the families speaks to the children as well as the adults, thus making every member of the family feel part of the experience.

During this waiting period, if families want to see the screening space, they are able to. If a child wants to sit in a particular seat, they can go in before the rest of the audience. 

During the screening

Once all of the audience has arrived, they are encouraged to make their way into the screening space, and when everybody is seated, a member of CaF staff gives a short introduction. During this introduction (which is directed towards all members of families, not just the parents), it is explained that the house lights will be left on, the volume of the film will be decreased and that moving about or making noise during the film is acceptable (during one of the screenings attended by the researcher, the audience was told “don’t worry about any kind of behaviour at all, just do what you want”).

Once the film starts, if young audience members need a break, there is a break-out room close to the auditorium, with activities for them to do. The doors of the auditorium are often left open so that people can come and go as they please.

After the screening

Once the film has ended, families are encouraged to stay in the venue for lunch, which is provided free of charge. Lunchtime gives families the opportunity to socialise, and to speak to CaF staff about the film and services that they offer. Other partner organisations are also invited to attend. There is a table with literature about CaF and the partner organisations. While they are eating, parents fill in feedback forms about the screening.