The Birmingham Bangla Film Festival had the opportunity to expand greatly and more deeply into the diverse socially excluded Asian and other communities in the West Midlands outside the main festival period.
The festival included of 7 initial screenings (including pilot) and consultancy for Birmingham Bangla Film Festival resulting in a further 3 screenings
Consult local communities and together showcase screenings outside the main festival dates
Developing screenings for different South Asian ethnicities, language groups, socially disadvantaged people, young people, LGBTQ+, and socially disadvantaged women
Delivery against all odds
Growing new community relationships
Development of new audiences and partnerships
Positive feedback, joy and appetite for more
My Beautiful Laundrette
Budget in brief
£12,000 from Film Hub Midlands
PROJECT DELIVERY: This was an exciting idea to develop and nurture new and existing relationships with communities with a view to building audiences for the summer festival. After a successful pilot at Shree Krishna Temple in December 2019, conversations started with several groups to bring community screenings monthly from January to May 2020 and we were negotiating with film producers and distributors. However, Covid reared its ugly head in January 2020 and all activity had to be halted. From herein, planning became difficult and with various lockdowns, tier systems and safety issues, it was difficult to pick up planning again for a number of months. In August 2021, planning was picked up again for delivery in September and October. After some complications regarding projector availability, the project was finally delivered from October through to December 2021, with some changes and flexibility but ensuring community was at the heart of everything that was done.
Having a team made up of Polina Zelmanova, Project Manager and Serena Patel as Assistant Project Manager and a technical team headed up by Jay Solanki was useful to follow up on new and existing contacts, build on some of Outreach Manager work delivered as part of the joint Film Hubs project and co-ordinate between community groups, organise the screen, projector and liaise with film distributors, set up and set down the screen and equipment. A considerable amount of time had been put into planning the original screenings from Jan – June 2020 which were not able to be realised.
What we didn’t do in terms of numbers was made up with the depth of quality in terms of reach and opportunity to develop the project.
NEW COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS: BIFF has met and worked with various communities since we launched in 2015, but this project has allowed us to meet with and develop relationships with more grass roots groups and agencies and understand their needs. Meeting with and working with women’s groups, old people’s groups and those that are often more socially disadvantaged has given us insights into how to serve these communities better and hopefully be able to invite them to our summer festival with discounted tickets and arrange travel with them. Some of these groups don’t often get to go out to the cinema or anywhere out of their local area and bringing the film to them in their space was a revelation.
NEW AUDIENCES: 50% of the audience who filled in the evaluations (and 90% of those that attended the pilot) had never been to a Birmingham Indian Film Festival event. This is a wonderful new audience to tap into and we need to work out how to stay connected with them and build opportunities for them to see and engage with our programmes be they online, in the cinema or in their spaces.
NEW PARTNERSHIPS: Collaborations are key to success, and this project has allowed us to work with arts and festival groups such as Purbanat and Shout Festival as well as community groups such as Highfield Hall Community Centre, Dolphin’s Women’s Centre and Saathi House; all of whom would like to work with us again and have already suggested ideas that they would be keen to explore. There are also several organisations that we had been speaking with but were unable to deliver a screening for including a women’s refuge, an old people’s home and Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada speaking communities. We made new contact with the Suraya Foundation which supports the elderly and their families in dignified living.
POSITIVE FEEDBACK: The hard work has been rewarded by some wonderful positive comments in person, on video vox pops and through evaluations. It has been humbling to meet people in their environments who are willing and keen to collaborate and show films to their groups and communities. The joy on people’s faces as they watch films is something I won’t easily forget and some of the examples include; the happy gasps of surprise on seeing superstar Amitabh Bachchan making a cameo experience in English Vinglish, women applauding Sridevi’s character as she makes her speech at the wedding at the end of the film and walking back to Saathi House to see burka clad women dancing to the end credits with joyous laughter turning to nervous laughter as I walked in. All the groups want more, some bigger screenings with better planning, some want to see old classic films and others have grand ideas to do outdoor summer screenings with picnics on their grounds. Over 95% of audiences across the board felt that they had a good or very good experience.
What has been difficult
COVID: There’s no denying that the pandemic has caused issues to all aspects of our lives and planning events in community spaces was a major casualty of lockdowns and various tier systems. Every time we thought we were gaining some confidence; another element of the pandemic would let us down. After having delivered 5 screenings over 8 days in October, and further screenings in November and December, things were going well. The final screening was going to be at BCU working with the Indian Society and the LGBTQ+ Society showcasing the Too Desi Too Queer programme of LGBTQ+ shorts. Permission had been granted from the Pro-Vice Chancellor to hold an event on campus but as time drew nearer the worries around the Omicron variant caused the screening to be postponed. This was an opportunity to connect with a young audience; that we intend to still follow through with.
COMMUNITY LEADER ENGAGEMENT: Building relationships is a face-to-face activity, meeting with, talking to and understanding people through conversation, body language and showing photos and video content cannot be replaced by phone calls, emails and zoom calls. Not all the community leaders we spoke to understood what we were offering. Often the demands for cash from us to show a film at their venue was frustrating as the amounts weren’t nominal facility amounts, but full-on venue hire amounts even though the groups were already meeting in these spaces and we were just bringing an activity to them.
PLANNING: Having to plan at short notice and being reactive and flexible to the needs of the groups we were talking to often meant that the team wasn’t always available to help when needed; especially in terms of technical set up and set down. The original plan was to offer one screening per month over 6 months which would make for a smooth delivery. Having to rush to deliver the project to meet deadlines was difficult and something nobody would want to do again.
EVALUATIONS: It’s evident from the number of evaluations we were able to deliver from the pilot project that paper evaluations work better. We were able to talk the audience through the evaluations explaining what the questions meant and volunteers from the temple and BIFF helped people fill in the surveys. We were able to do this again at Saathi House, Gujarati Rajput Samaj and Shout Festival where pens and surveys were left on people’s seats with sanitised hands. Guests were told to take the pens home and leave the surveys on a table for us to collect later. Where paper surveys were not done, links to the surveys were sent by email but uptake on these was low and this is reflected in the quantity of evaluations received.
What you would do differently if you did it again
PLAN BETTER: Being able to plan projects and delivery well with a schedule and timeline would be much better than trying to deliver projects against a tight deadline. If the original proposal had gone to plan, then this is what would have been possible and would be the much-preferred way of working. This would allow us to have better numbers of attendance as per the pilot when we had approximately 80 people in attendance.
BUILD THE RIGHT TEAM: Similarly, having the right people on board who are trained to deliver their roles would be the ideal way to work taking the onus off key leaders. This is only possible when the planning is in place so that the right team can be recruited. The way the project had to be delivered on this occasion meant that some people who were in place for the original delivery dates, were not available when the final activities were being delivered.
MORE COLLABORATIONS: The legacy of this project has shown there is potential to deliver screenings working with communities who have many of their own ideas. Funding and resources allowing, it would be beneficial to engage with these groups in advance and help develop propositions that work for them (which was the original aim of the project). It’s useful and important to understand and take responsibility for programming. Initially, Dolphin Centre were keen to show the feel-good road trip film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara for their ladies’ group that meet in the afternoons. As time got closer we realised the film would be too long and cause a problem for mum’s on the school run, so we amended the start time and chose a shorter film which actually worked out better in the end.
MIXED PROGRAMME: The original idea was to show new independent films that reflect what we do at the Birmingham Indian Film Festival, but this project has given us an insight into our audiences. Often, they haven’t seen films that we as film exhibitors may have watched. English Vinglish (2012) and Runway (2010) are two examples of older films that none of our audiences had seen before. Feedback also indicated audiences would be interested in seeing classic Bollywood films. The key is to be able to offer a screening and get to know people and engage in meaningful conversations leaving them with a positive experience.
Awareness / Attitudes
The films shown as part of the BIFF Community project were interesting and covered a number of different issues. Bajrangi Bhaijan was a commercial Bollywood film looking at cultural issues between Indian and Pakistan, religion and a mute girl to boot. The issues were dealt with in a very commercial and accessible manner through entertainment, drama, music and dance and was a hit with the audiences. It was a feel good family film with one young girl excited to see the film for the 16th time!
English Vinglish was an empowering female directed film based on the directors own true story. Director, Gauri Shinde, used to be embarrassed by her homemade pickle making mother who couldn’t speak English and made the film as an apology to her. The film follows the journey of Shashi played by the late Sridevi, who can’t speak English and is mocked by her children. She travels alone to America, falls in love and learns to speak English in a climactic ending. The film also deals sensitively with cultural, patriarchal, sexism and LGBTQ+ issues and many women identified with the themes. It was wonderful to have conversations with the women after the film had ended – many were empowered and motivated by the film. There was a lovely discussion with one woman agreeing with Sridevi’s character who chastises one of her fellow classmates in the film when he mocks their gay teacher who breaks up with his boyfriend, “we’re all different, but we all hurt the same.”
Aise Hee deals with patriarchy, a dysfunctional family, old age and a woman’s right to live her life her way after spending her whole life being a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. Audiences related to the themes and enjoyed a film that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to see. Audiences talked about their own situations and how they had felt isolated not just as an elderly woman but by virtue of not being able to live as freely as they used to.
My Beautiful Laundrette dealt with issues of capitalism, culture shock, patriarchy, sexism and LGBTQ+ issues in Thatcher’s Britain. Whilst showing as part of a queer festival, the audience was a nice mix of heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people who enjoyed a lively discussion between lead actor Gordon Warnecke and Muslim LGBTQ+ activist, Khakan Qureshi.
The Birmingham Bangla Film Festival showcased a documentary; Recognise Bangladesh and feature films Khacha and Meghmallar. These films were important in marking the history of 50 years of Bangladesh and telling the stories of how Bangladesh first became East Pakistan in 1947, showed the war of liberation and then the difficulties of gaining independence in 1971.
The postponed Too Desi Too Queer screening was to be a joint venture between the BCU Indian Society and the BCU LGBTQ+ Society.
• Already aware of the experiences in the film and could relate to the themes.
• Really interesting film, not something I’ve seen before OR would have chosen to watch. Great intro from Dharmesh to the style of the film and the themes. Well organised and felt safe re: covid. Nice touch with the popcorn!• The film was good, and I enjoyed question answer after film too.
• Touching portrayal of queer and family relationships. Working class and POC representation in Thatcher’s Britain is refreshing.
• Was wonderful to watch the film on the big screen as had only seen on television before. Great to have Gordon there for the Q&A. Really interesting to see a snapshot of 80s Britain in terms of sexuality, race, class and wealth. MORE PLEASE!
Introduced you to new types of films: 33% (Pilot) | 66% (2021 Screenings)
From the outset, the project aimed to focus on under-represented communities such as different communities including South Asian ethnicities, language groups, socially disadvantaged people, young people, LGBTQ+ community and socially disadvantaged women.
Though the project didn’t go as planned due to COVID, I was really pleased that the final delivery targeted the audiences we had originally aimed to do.
Of those that filled in the evaluations, we reached as follows. Audiences tended to be more female, between 40 – 59 years of age, heterosexual and not considered themselves to have a disability. However, the sample of evaluations is small not conclusive.
Knowledge & Experience
The films encouraged audiences to see more independent cinema. Many people engaged with the festival for the first time, and I was able to explain what we do and the kinds of films that we show. We now need to follow up with these audiences and offer incentives to come to our festival in the cinema.
Of the people who filled in the surveys.
Increase your appetite for independent British and international films or Film Heritage: 29% (Pilot) | 66% (2021 Screenings)
Seeing films with friends and family and like-minded audiences has a strong impact on mental health, wellbeing and social cohesion. There’s a feeling of community, of shared experiences and relatable content. Audiences enjoyed watching films together; the Bajrangi Bhaijan screening reminded me of seeing films in India where audiences talk to each and to the screen, often singing along to songs.
My Beautiful Laundrette came at a time after further restrictions due to COVID and one person wrote that they enjoyed the opportunity to see a film with friends.
• Appreciated the covid safety in place.
• Brilliant – it made me laugh and cry – great to watch with family
• It is brilliant watching movies as a community. Even though I’ve seen this film numerous times watching it together and sharing the emotion is priceless.
• It was an enjoyable evening. Enjoyed the film, the setting and company of friends. Enjoy film festival movies.
• Please show old Indian films – Mother India – maybe women only screening
• Will prefer to have more films at this venue which will help to bring community together. Well done and thanks Dharmesh.
• The women shared that it was lovely to be able to sit with their friends and watch the screenings – they said it felt like going to the Cinema (which some of them haven’t been to)
• The women felt positive that they were accessing something different at the Dolphin Centre and that “why can’t we have more stuff like this” – “it is almost impossible for us to go out so please bring more entertainment to the DC”
Provided a worthwhile cultural experience: 39% (Pilot)
Made you feel connected with a community of people watching the same film: 66% (2021 Screenings)
In the same way as mentioned in the social cohesion section, watching films with family and friends can have a positive impact on well-being. Women were visibly moved in a positive way on seeing English Vinglish with everybody rooting for the lead character and some giving her a round of applause at the end when she makes her speech. At Saathi House, once I had started the film I had to leave to take my son to tuition. I got back in time for the film to finish and walked in on burka wearing women laughing and dancing to the catchy end credits. They were embarrassed and giggly when I walked in but I gave them space until the credits ended and there was a lovely buzz as they filled in their surveys.
Talking to Khakan Qureshi on the way home, he found the conversation around My Beautiful Laundrette was a positive way to improve health and well-being for South Asian LGBTQ+ people, particularly as he runs an organisation called Finding A Voice. We discussed further opportunities to give a platform to South Asian LGBTQ+ films to help support the groups he works with.
Additionally, it was wonderful to meet with the Suraya Foundation which supports the elderly and their families in dignified living and “experience happy moments in the form of entertainment”.
This project probably didn’t have a big impact on the economy, but the potential is there to promote more screenings and bring people into the venues and do wraparound events around the screenings which include samosa, cake and tea stalls, family days or mini-melas that could help the venues raise money for their communities or boost local supply chains.
The Birmingham Bangla Film Festival helped to develop skills within this community who were keen to show Bangla films but needed support to do so. Working with them, they were able to source films, work with the cinema to set up the screenings and develop marketing to promote the films. Whilst tickets sales weren’t high and they relied on a lot of comps, they managed to get a good audience in to see the films and create a buzz around the proposition, which could become a regular event.
What audiences said
It was my first visit to an independent South Asian film. I would recommend to anyone who has not been. I would come again if there's chances again.
Indian cinema has completed more than 100 years. If you could find some old movies like Pukar, Harishchandra Taramati from archives and screen them so that our new generation can learn the struggling of these old movie makers.
It is brilliant watching movies as a community. Even though I've seen this film numerous times watching it together and sharing the emotion is priceless.
It was an enjoyable evening. Enjoyed the film, the setting and company of friends. Enjoy film festival movies.
Touching portrayal of queer and family relationships. Working class and POC representation in Thatcher's Britain is refreshing.
What professionals, press and partners said
Nisha Patel – Shree Krishna Temple: Thank you so much for hosting today's event. Everyone loved it. Great for a first event...looking forward to many more!
Maxine Mills – Dolphin Centre: It was lovely and engaging for the women to see on film other women who look like them and also sharing some of the same issues and challenges with personal development, learning English and gaining independency
Anecdotally, some of the women say they felt the same when they were first learning English.
The women shared that it was lovely to be able to sit with their friends and watch the screenings – they said it felt like going to the Cinema (which some of them haven’t been to)
The women felt positive that they were accessing something different at the Dolphin Centre and that “why can’t we have more stuff like this” – “it is almost impossible for us to go out so please bring more entertainment to the DC”
Maz Iqbal - Highfield Hall Community Centre: This was a great event. We should plan more and do something in the summer outdoors on the grounds as a family event.
Adam Ali - Saathi House: The ladies enjoyed the film. We should discuss more potential events and maybe work with the Villa space or in the park.
Murad Khan - Purbanat: It was a lovely screening, and we should do more – perhaps an Amitabh night and a screening of Sholay!
Rajib - Birmingham Bangla Film Festival: The audience and the volunteers enjoyed the films and expressed interest to participate in our future events.
“Channel S Television's journalist Riyad Ahad's report on the exhibition of Liberation War documentary 'Recognize Bangladesh' at Birmingham Bangla Film Festival. I never imagined that there would be so many visitors to watch the documentary, the many questions and suggestions from the audience at the end of the show amazed me. Thank you to the organisers they selected the documentary for the exhibition.” Tanvir Ahmed, Documentary Director