Shajna Begum (pronounced Shazna) is a freelance film editor and the founder of a monthly short film screening event entitled The Film Bunch. Supported by her team of nine and an array of volunteers, they run themed events screening films from around the globe at The Book Club in London. “Our mission is to improve access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to mainstream short films, so we provide subtitles, British Sign Language interpreters and live captioning at our events,” declares their website.
Having previously completed a Media Studies degree and a one-year filmmaking programme, Begum was ready to enjoy the wealth of film culture across the capital. Being hard of hearing, it didn’t take her long to spot the lack of captions at other short film events. Even though she’d never run an event before, an idea began brewing to create her own short film screening event, which both she and her friends could enjoy.
The idea was only the first step, as it gestated for another six months. Through circumstance, Begum encountered an organisation called UnLtd (pronounced Unlimited), who support social entrepreneurs with funding and mentorship to start their enterprises. Speaking to someone from the UnLtd team at the event, Begum discovered her idea fitted exactly into a social enterprise category and applied for two financial awards from different organisations.
Winning not one but two, she had the financial support she needed to test her idea out with her first event. The launch event was in Hackney in May 2016. After two months of promotion, it was well-received: the room was positively bursting with standing room only!
Applying for the second round of funding from UnLtd, Begum pursued running the event monthly. The Film Bunch has had its ups and downs over the last year, as the amount of preparation is considerable and funding hasn’t always been available. However, the group has now expanded to offer workshops on different topics (with a BSL interpreter) including the Let’s Make A Short Film Project. It gives people the opportunity to learn filmmaking and gain some experience. They screened the result of the first project at the April event this year.
Asked what she likes the most about running the group, Begum offers teamwork as her first love. “I was surprised. At first I wasn’t sure whether there would be people that wanted to offer to help out, but there are so many people that email you or speak to you about the event saying, “I’d love to volunteer, how can I get involved?””
The offers of help she has received, in her own words, have been amazing. Now with 3500 members in their Meetup group, the monthly event certainly has achieved its own recognition. Not everyone who attends the group even knows they cater for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
We asked Begum what she thinks is the big draw to the group. Blown away with just how many people turned up to the first event, she expanded, “everyone enjoys films whether you’re a filmmaker or not. Films are a great way to share a story. And then you have the other aspect which is that it’s open to everyone, whether they need captions or not. Anyone can come along so it’s inclusive...I don’t want anyone to feel left out...I needed to find a way to bring both [the deaf and hard of hearing, and hearing communities] together rather than divide them.”
The Film Bunch doesn’t charge filmmakers for their film submissions, keeping in mind the vast sums they are spending to enter their films into other festivals. They also keep a closer community feel for the night by not giving out awards for films.
With only a one-hour slot to fill, they choose carefully what films they select since the quality of films submitted is so high. Incredibly, even though they specify the films need captions, people still try to sneakily enter their films by lying about whether they have captions when they apply!
The Film Bunch celebrated its one-year anniversary back in May. For the event, they screened their eight favourite films from the past year (out of a total of 74). Shajna Begum has big plans for the future and is planning a 48-hour challenge for people to enter, focusing on short films with captions. It’ll be the first competition of its kind for hard of hearing people.
If you would like to visit The Film Bunch, you can find out about their upcoming events by following them on their social media, or by signing up to the newsletter. If you just can’t wait, their next event is Wednesday 5th July at 7pm located at The Book Club, 100-106 Leonard Street, London. This month, it’s an evening of documentary short films and networking. Promising captions and British Sign Language interpreters, this is an event both hearing and hard of hearing people can enjoy.