G: Tell us about the 1000 Londoners project, what was the inspiration behind it? What are you trying to achieve with this project?
1000 Londoners will be the most in-depth and expansive documentary series ever produced about the city. Each week, viewers will be able to visit 1000londoners.com and watch a 3 minute film about a new Londoner with the range of stories as diverse as the city itself. The video will also be accompanied by a series of questions and a selection of photos taken by the Londoner themselves to provide a complete picture of the person. Over the next 5 years we will be able to build up a mosaic portrait of the city with people from all walks of life and all ages represented.
Since launching Chocolate Films, in 2003 (a social enterprise film production company and the company behind the 1000 Londoners project) we have always created projects with a strong sense of community and community cohesion. Whether this is through our documentary making, filmmaking workshops or pop up media events, we love to bring people from around this massive city together. So the inspiration for this project really came from an extension of that idea; how do we get people in London talking, sharing their stories and understanding how everyone else lives?
The best example I can think of this was actually the genesis of the 1000 Londoners project itself. Our filming and production projects take us all over the place and one morning we were filming the Duchess of Wessex for the National Autistic Society in Buckingham Palace. We were sitting in this room and The Queen could have walked in at anytime, there were priceless portraits, antiques… everything you’d expect from the Palace. That afternoon I ran a filmmaking workshop in Euston with some homeless young people for a completely different project. I was struck by the intense differences I had witnessed that day so Rachel Wang (the other company director) and I started to brainstorm ways to bring all of these different parts of the city together. We decided there was no better way of doing this than having people telling their own stories, showing everyone as not just a face in a crowd but an individual with a unique story. From that basic idea, 1000 Londoners was born.
So far we have met as seen the city from a helicopter, the sewers and the bedroom of a male escort. We’ve shot a Blacksmith, a manicurist and a former Mayor. We’ve shot one Londoner selling guns and another selling the Big Issue so It’s already proving to be as diverse and distinctive as we hoped!
The films will be created and published regularly over the next five years on 1000londoners.com
G: How did you choose the participants?
We focus first and foremost on personal, individual stories. We are looking for an alternative, fresh story from ordinary people and well known individuals. This means researching areas of London that might be unknown to the public, hidden away or even a different side to a story you already know. There are 2 films that we’ve made which are great examples of these. One of the films which is featured in our launch slate was with a woman who was on Britain’s Got Talent and is considered one of the top Hula Hoop artists in the UK. I went along to film it thinking that I was going to be capturing her running a class. When I got there I was amazed to find a very driven entrepreneur, organising classes and selling merchandise. That was a story people hadn’t seen and a side of London I was excited to capture.
Recently I was thrilled to secure access to a top politician and ex-Mayor of London. This was someone who has obviously had a lot of media coverage over the years so the question was what don’t we know about him, what’s interesting and unique? What I came away with was a touching film of an old man in retirement who has an incredible passion for his family and, of all things, gardening. Finding new stories and getting access to people in unusual environments is of the things that makes 1000 Londoners very fresh and new.
We are making some of the films as well as actively looking for submissions from the public in order to find hidden stories and a range of different views of the city. There are people out there who might have family or friends who could be part of the project and we’d love to hear from them and then maybe even get them to make their own films for the project.
We will be focusing on the community cohesion aspect by bringing together groups through Chocolate Films workshops to make films about each other. If we could get, for example, a group of 15 year olds from a Muslim faith school to interview and make a film about a child in a Jewish Faith school and vice versa then people would really come away with a different point of view. Learning about what’s around you is key to choosing people in this project so finding those areas where community groups can interact and come out with something they can share to others is what will capture people’s imaginations.
G: Why do you think it is important to share these personal stories?
London is made up over 8 million people and most of us don’t even know our neighbours. Everyone is moving so fast and there’s so much going on around us that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, everyone is involved in their own little story. That man you see on the train every day who always looks miserable and grumpy, what’s his story? Why is he like that? If we knew maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to judge or pass comment?
Every time our team at Chocolate Films speak to people about the project you can see that the idea captures their imagination. Everyone always starts immediately thinking of people they know or see everyday who has a story that is yet to be shared. Or when we tell them about the people that we’ve already filmed they’re sometimes shocked to find out there’s, for example, an Apiary and a man making honey on their doorstep!
We’re not trying to make everything positive and wonderful though. London isn’t Disneyland and we have no intention of portraying it as such. There will be films that we make which show people really struggling and maybe bringing those stories to light will highlight areas of the Capital that aren’t in the news or discussed regularly. We are keen to get a community to start thinking about an issue, spark a debate or even just get together as a group to move forward in a positive way. The mantra of the whole project is that ‘everyone is interesting’
G: What are you future plans? Are you planning to run this project in other cities?
In the immediate future we are going to start opening up ideas for films and Londoners to the public. When the site, 1000londoners.com goes live on 24th April people will be able to send us their ideas which we can start to incorporate into the upcoming slate of films. We are also in contact with a number of film festivals across London about holding competitions to have filmmakers submit entries which can be screened within the festivals. We’ve just finished a similar competition with the London Short Film Festival with the winner having their film included in the festival next year and as part of our initial slate of 10 which are being screened at BAFTA during our launch event.
We are also setting up more community cohesion projects with different groups across London making films about each other. We’ve already made some films with young people in Southwark and with young ambassadors at the London Transport Museum but are always on the look out for community groups who want to get involved. If anyone is interested in contacting us then we’d love to hear from them. Just drop us a tweet or a message on Facebook and we’ll organise something together.
In terms of other cities, that has always been something we have considered. We’ve spoken to filmmakers in Manchester about the possibility of a similar project there as well as Glasgow; these big cities with history and diversity that have stories to tell. It’s the kind of project that can be transported anywhere; if it can work in London we are aiming for it work in New York or Paris.
At the moment we are purely focused on getting the word out in the capital about 1000londoners.com. Getting people involved and getting strong films made is our main aim. Chocolate Films loves London and we want to celebrate it through our flagship project.