Filmmaker Tom Wilton went to visit a professional wrestling training school on Staten Island to research a screenplay he was working on at the moment.
But that is when he stumbled upon Christina Sarni, a hearing-impaired pro wrestler and the subject of Being C-Bunny, a short documentary profiling Sarni as she discusses her challenges of overcoming deafness.
The meeting stoaked Wilton’s curiosity, and the two connected on social media. A friendship and professional relationship developed from there.
Growing up with a grandfather with a speech disability, Wilson experienced firsthand the uphill challenges someone like his grandfather faced communicating with others.
After getting to know Sarni, who performs in the ring as C-Bunny, he felt compelled to use his movie-making abilities to tell her inspirational story.
“My late grandfather had a substantial speech impediment, and growing up, I saw how challenging he found it to communicate with those around him,” Wilton recalled. “Even as a kid, I could see his quiet heartbreak when people backed out of conversations quickly, simply unable, or unwilling, to be patient enough to listen.
“Of course, anyone who has spent any time with Christina will attest to her big heart and almost superhuman levels of positivity, and so – as C-Bunny – she’s able to share so much almost without words,” he added. “But I could tell there was so much more going on, and so I felt inspired to let Christina tell her story.”
A one-person crew, the 42-year-old talented filmmaker said Being C-Bunny has mass appeal and has been well-received due to its theme of working to fit in when you feel you don’t belong.
“I have sat with a few audiences now, watching it on a big screen, and it’s been a real delight to see their responses,” the London, UK, native said. “Even though this is Christina’s story, I think there’s a lot that’s relatable. Who hasn’t felt lonely before? Who hasn’t yearned to fit in? But of course, seeing this young woman talk about those same challenges, only amplified by something in her life she never chose – while also chasing her dreams – there’s something infectious about that. Christina is way more inspiring than I think she realizes, and so responses to the film have pretty much centered on that.”
Being C-Bunny was released on May 3rd, 2019 and has played in three film festivals since then, including the highly prestigious Cinequest, which the documentary is currently running in until Wednesday, October 14th.
The Brooklyn-born Sarni could not be happier with the finished project and the message the movie delivered to not only people with disabilities but everyone else.
“I just want people to see, especially if you have a disability or you are different, that you don’t have to limit yourself by your inabilities,” the New Jersey resident said. “I wanted to change the perception of people when they think hearing-impaired. I want people to see how having a dream is one of the most profound motivations for us to have that will to keep you moving forward.”
So far, Sarni said movie-goers told her that Being C-Bunny has brought them a measure of disabilities awareness and the understanding and the need to treat fellow humans better.
“From the feedback I received, I feel that it has opened people’s eyes to this invisible disability and even how we should treat others,” Sarni said. “I know people without disabilities have experienced what I have gone through, and that makes me feel less alone.”
While Sarni wears hearing aids, she said communicating is still a challenge, and she still needs to make adjustments while chasing her professional wrestling aspiration of making it to the top.
“People generally think if I wear hearing aids, I can hear just fine, or even to the other extreme that I only know sign language,” she explained. “I am a woman trying to achieve the American dream despite my disability. We want to be involved and do the same things as others, but unfortunately, accommodations need to be made.
“I learned a lot about myself in the duration of this film, and I cannot wait to share it with others,” Sarni continued. “We need to make this world a kinder place for all and learn to value and love yourself.”
To watch Being C-Bunny, log onto cinequest.org until October 14th.
— Jerry Del Priore