Written by Rachel WangSeptember 28, 2016

A sense of community is at the heart of everything we do and we’re proudly enmeshed in London’s cultural tapestry. This summer, we teamed up with 1000 Londoners – an ambitious project created by Chocolate Films. An evolving series of shorts portraying Londoners from all walks of life and all corners of the capital, the film-portraits aim to foster a sense of understanding between different communities and offer an insight into the lives of people who all consider themselves to be Londoners. At each of our events this summer, one of these shorts was hand-picked to complement the main feature on screen. We caught up with Rachel Wang, creative director of 1000 Londoners to find out more…

1000 LondonersHow far into the project are you? Do you get daunted by the number of video portraits you’ve committed to recording?

Every Thursday, we broadcast a new Londoner. Our latest Londoner is Kate – she is number 163 so we have a fair way to go!

We are passionate about discovering stories about people in London and we take pride in finding new new people all the time. We run bi-monthly themed seasons, our next one is called Century and it will focus on 10 Women over 10 Decades from the age of 1- 100.

Has this project taken over your life? Do you have other projects on the boil?

1000 Londoners is integral to our working life at Chocolate Films. We are an incredibly active video production company working in all areas of the arts, culture and heritage. 1000 Londoners is a way in which, as filmmakers can creatively ‘stretch our legs’ and always try and experiment with new ways of telling human stories.

Do you have a deadline in mind? How do you plan to mark the milestone of completing of the project?

Our main aim is to make a remarkable, unique collection of 1000 short documentaries about Londoners. Whether it takes another 5 or 10 years doesn’t really matter to us, what is key is that we are always reinventing the way we present and produce these films individually and as a collection. Our ultimate aim is to make one feature film from the footage we collect of the 1000 Londoners. As this is the largest documentary project ever undertaken about a city, we are always venturing into new ground, so there are many milestones!

Could you tell us about a particularly memorable Londoner?

1000 Londoners: FrankOne of the first 10 films that we made for 1000 Londoners is my film about Frank. I was fascinated by this 13-year-old boy who came along to a pop-up media studio project we ran at a local shopping centre. Frank couldn’t stop doing sleight of hand tricks with a deck of cards. I quickly realised that he suffered from ADHD and that his interest in magic was helping him to focus and overcome the challenges he was facing at school. Frank has kept in touch with Chocolate Films and I love this about our project. It is about collaboration and community engagement as well as creativity and our passion for the city of London.

1000 Londoners: HazelAnother particularly memorable Londoner is Hazel, who is blind and is one of the 5% of visually impaired people who can see nothing at all. For this film we really wanted people to try and get an understanding of what it is like to experience London in the dark, so we added in some animation based on how Hazel describes the world around her and how she experiences London.

How do you select your participants?

We receive dozens of requests from potential Londoners everyday. As we produce more films I realise my role as creative director is to be aware of the curation of the entire project and always assess the variety and range of people. For our new season, I am excited to focus our attention on women in London and unearth surprising, sophisticated, brave, naive and unsettling stories.

Have new relationships been created through the project?

At the heart of the project, 1000 Londoners is about community cohesion and enabling people to discover more about one another. If you think about a carriage on a train and how little you know about the person that may sit opposite you, you realise how much we all have to learn and discover about one another. 1000 Londoners is about us as documentary filmmakers finding new people and experiences we have no idea about and fleshing out these unfamiliar stories into a narrative that is accessible for others to understand and relate to.

We regularly open up 1000 Londoners to the public so that they can make their own 1000 Londoner film and submit it to us. We also run a huge amount of documentary filmmaking workshops with young people and disadvantaged adults so that they can make their own films for the project.

We ran a project with DAMIC, a drugs and alcohol recovery programme based in Greenwich. Through this workshop programme we met two fantastic people – Mark and Christine – who have since gone on to found their own social enterprise film production company with our support. They regularly make 1000 Londoners films, and produced one about Christine herself.

There is so much variety and diversity captured in this amazingly sprawling project. Are there common themes that tend to emerge across the films?

This is a sprawling project (about a sprawling city!) so it’s important to try and identify common themes and make the most of them. We have found the best way of highlighting and showcasing these themes is through specially curated seasons.

1000 Londoners: City of DogThis year we have had a season about dogs (City of Dog), a season about people who are living high in London (High Life) and we are currently starting our next season ‘Looking after London’, which focuses on the people who care for others in the city.

We’re developing themes all the time and seeing the project as a way we can ultimately tell one rich and fascinating creative feature length documentary about Londoners in a portmanteau style. Films like Paul Auster’s Smoke and Man with a Movie Camera, have been inspirational to the idea and development of 1000 Londoners as a visual symphony of a city.

What have you found surprising about the project?

What has been both surprising and gratifying is how young people have engaged with and understood the project and our aims and really been motivated to be a part of it. As a social enterprise we are always looking for new ways to engage young people, especially those who are hard to reach. We have found that by giving them the opportunity to be part of our project, young people are really excited and motivated to learn and discover their own creative voice during our documentary workshops.

What have you found to be people’s reasons for wanting to share their story?

Lots of people don’t really have a reason. For documentary filmmaking it’s often better that way, when someone doesn’t have an agenda and it’s as objective and truthful as it can be. Most of the people we film have never been filmed before and again this is often a more interesting type of voice.

Our overall approach is to collaborate and work closely with our contributors so that they can find their own voice and express their own story. This can sometimes take a lot of research and discussion and other times it can be very simple.

What was your intention on starting the project and how has this changed as things evolved?

chocolate filmsMark Currie and I came up with the concept and developed it in-house at Chocolate Films. We were motivated by our love of London and a passion for telling human stories. Because we meet such a diverse range of people each day when we are filming and devising creative programmes, we were keen to share our unique experience with others. On one day we were filming the Duchess of at Buckingham Palace and then we rushed over to a homeless organisation in Euston to run a workshop with some teenagers. It was so extreme, but it represented what London is like.

We wanted to be part of a new project that helped to provide community cohesion between groups that would otherwise never meet nor know one another. Providing unique interactions for people online as a way of enabling them to understand and communicate with one another was a key motivator in setting the whole thing up.

What has been your experience of the partnership with Nomad and the opportunity to connect your shorts with a specific cultural context and audience?

The experience has been fantastic. Putting the films in a specific cultural context gives them a new life and allows people to look at them in a way they might not have even thought of before.

I think it’s been really interesting to let people figure out the connection between the context of the feature and of the short for themselves – to leave it open to interpretation. Some of the links are quite clear (i.e. we showed our Londoner Paul, who is a taxi driver, before Taxi Driver) but others are less obvious (like showing our Londoner Alex Binnie before Night of the Hunter because they both have tattoos on their hands!)

Could you say something about the role of film in building community and connecting people?

Chocoloate Films: Nine Elms Past and PresentI think film is the most accessible of the arts, and is a really powerful medium for bringing people together. Not just by watching films together but by making them together. This is the principal idea behind Chocolate Films Workshops. Each year we outreach to over 2,000 people through our filmmaking workshops and lots of our projects connect the participants to their local community, such as our inter-generational project Nine Elms Past and Present. Our 1000 Londoners films are all about building connections between seemingly very different people.1000 Londoners: map of London boroughs

How do people get involved and are you looking for any particular kinds of participants at the moment?

You can get involved by getting in contact via our social media channels or email us. At the moment we are looking for women, for our next season, from a wide age range (0-100 to be exact!). We are also looking for people from the following boroughs; Sutton, Kingston, Harrow, Waltham Forest, Havering, City of London, Bexley, Bromley, Hammersmith & Fulham and Lewisham.