What does it mean to be a true ‘Londoner’? To have a cynical view on life, a wry wit, a slight quirkiness or eccentricity? Whatever the answer, a ground-breaking new documentary series hopes to enlighten us. On 24th April The Brixton Bugle attended the launch of 1000 Londoners, an ambitious film project from Brixton-based studio Chocolate Films.
The public launch of 1000 Londoners took place at BAFTA’s Piccadilly address with the screening of 10 three-minute films. These initial short films showed a diverse range of Londoners, including a teenage card magician with ADHD, a Polish cage fighter and a professional hula hooper.
1000 Londoners is a documentary project offering a glimpse into the lives of one thousand Londoners through a series of individual short films. It’s an epic undertaking, due to take 5 years to complete, with new films released each week on the website 1000Londoners.com.
“The idea was to paint of portrait of the city,” says creative director Mark Currie, when asked why they decided to embark on this enormous cinematic journey through the streets of London. “The best way we thought of doing that was through the people. The people are what make the city.”
The team hopes to capture as many different viewpoints on the city as possible, from the richest to the poorest. They’ve shot 50 films already and their subjects include an award-winning male escort, a sewer worker, a helicopter pilot, a Big-Issue seller, an ex-soldier who runs a replica gun shop, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Royal Opera House director Nick Serota.
“In one day we were filming the countess of Wessex in the drawing rooms of Buckingham Palace, then a group of homeless young people at the New Horizon homeless centre in Euston,” says Mark. His team approaches people with no agenda, and wants to get as many different stories heard as possible. They’re also hoping their films will be preserved for posterity, a record of London today for generations to come.
1000 Londoners is also borne out of a common nosiness to discover what everyone around us is really like. “You walk past thousands of people every day in the city or stand next to them on the Tube,” says Mark, “we thought it would be nice to dip into their lives for 3 minutes.”
I ask him whether he thinks it’s possible to capture the true essence of a Londoner. “When we started the project everybody could visualise what 1000 New Yorkers might be – it’s such a well-filmed, well-documented city,” he explains, “but I don’t think London has that obvious identity.”
Each participant is asked the same 20 questions, and there have been a few similarities cropping up among the people they’ve filmed so far, Mark tells me. “There’s a quirkiness and a sense of humour that seems to drift across lots of the films,” he says. Each participant has been asked who they think the ultimate Londoner is, and there’s been some common answers there: “Funnily enough, Boris Johnson is one that lots of people talk about, and everyone also seems to love Sherlock Holmes.”
So how have the team found their unique and varied subjects? “Some of them are iconic London people that we knew we had to go out and find,” says Mark, “Chelsea pensioners and cabbies for example.” They’re discovering other people through word-of-mouth and pop-up events. This is how they came across Frank, one of the first 10, a teenager with ADHD who practices sleight of hand card tricks to channel his hyperactivity.
Two of the first 50 subjects, Rose and Shola, are Brixtoners with their own unique stories to tell. Shola is a 30 year-old Jamaican-Chinese Muslim, who worked as an airline hostess for six years. Eight years ago she was inspired by her cousin Jamal to convert to Islam, and has now taken the Islamic name Kaminah. She’s currently in the process of setting up a natural hair and skincare range business called Fealty from her Brixton flat.
Rose was brought up by her Spanish mother in the Stockwell end of Brixton and now lives in the house where she grew up with her husband and child. She is a loving mother who underwent three years of arduous IVF treatment in the UK and Egypt to conceive her son, Zacary. Three years on she is determined to infuse her son’s life with both her Spanish heritage and her husband’s Egyptian heritage.
The project has been a lesson in the unexpected, Mark tells me, and often the film crew end up with something completely unplanned.This happened with hula hooper Marawa. “We knew she was driven and focused – you have to be to hula-hoop 100 hoops in one go. When we got there she was doing deals with a prison up north to get prisoners wrapping hula hoops for herl. So driven, so entrepreneurial, but also so completely off-the-wall.”
Chocolate Films would like your help in discovering new subjects for 1000 Londoners. What further stories does Brixton have to offer? At the Bugle, we can already think of a few. If you have someone you’d like to suggest they feature, get in touch with them through the website 1000Londoners.com or tweet your suggestion using #SuggestALondoner.