Who is London? 1000 Londoners

1000 Londoners is a project of films and people. Over five years a thousand people who call London home will be filmed telling their story, and the three minute videos posted on the website. A ‘unique digital portrait,’ anyone can be nominated, and as such the interviewees reflect the colourful human landscape of London. Everyone has a story. And with 8.3 million permanent residents, and another couple of million in the day through work and visiting, London is home to many stories. I chat to Reece Lipman, Film Maker on the project, to find out more.

Where did you get the inspiration for the project?

Mark Currie and Rachel Wang, who are the creative directors of 1000 Londoners and the directors of Chocolate Films (the company producing 1000 Londoners) came up with the concept for the project about 2 years ago. Since launching Chocolate Films, a social enterprise film production, in 2003, they have always created projects with a strong sense of community and community cohesion. Whether through documentaries, filmmaking workshops or community media events, bringing people from around this massive city together was always one of the company’s key aims. 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?

A great example to highlight this was actually the genesis of the 1000 Londoners project itself. One morning Mark was filming the Duchess of Wessex in Buckingham Palace. He was sitting in this room where The Queen could have walked in at anytime, there were priceless portraits, antiques… everything you’d expect from the Palace. That afternoon however he ran a filmmaking workshop in a different part of the city with some homeless young people for a completely different project. Those intense differences in one day prompted him and Rachel to brainstorm ways to bring all of these different parts of the city together. They 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 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 got the opening set of films on 1000Londoners.com now including one Londoner selling replica guns and another selling the Big Issue so it’s already proving to be as diverse and distinctive as we hoped!

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Do you think that this project would work anywhere else?

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 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.

Back in July 2013 you posted a question on your blog “What makes someone a Londoner”? Do you think you are getting any close to an answer?

I think what we’re finding so far is that a Londoner isn’t actually something that can be defined. This is a city of 8 million people so saying that we are all grumpy, happy, busy, accepting of others etc would only end up being a crass generalistion.

What is clear though is that being a Londoner is more a state of mind than anything else. One of our key criteria is that all of the people featured throughout the project must consider themselves a Londoner, whether they have been here their whole lives or got off the plane yesterday. That means that the thing that makes someone a Londoner is that they feel a connection with the city in some way. This doesn’t always have to be positive of course but that connection, that emotional response is what we have found, so far at least, makes someone a Londoner.

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Have you seen any common traits yet?

The only common trait I can think of is that people do feel strongly about the city, whether in a positive or a negative way. It’s a place which elicits such a range of emotional responses and that really is coming across strongly. For example, I filmed a woman who owns a pie and mash shop that has all the original fittings from the mid 1920s. It’s this typically London food shop with customers who have been going in for years. The woman was talking to be about how she really dislikes the fact that London is losing some of its classic buildings and as a consequence its history is disappearing. So she loved the city, felt connected daily to its past but at the same time no longer liked what it was becoming. That’s a very common trait amongst a lot of the Londoners we’ve met so far – they either love it or they hate it, there’s no real middle ground.

Whilst I guess it is necessary to do the project over five years simply due to time constraints, do you think that this means the picture will change? What makes someone a Londoner in 2014 may not be the same as in 2019?

I think the best answer to that is to have a look back over London in the past. What made Londoners Londoners 30 years ago you could say still applies today. Because of the river and because of Britain’s place in world politics and trading, London has always been a place where different communities from around the world have met and connected. Whilst places like Docklands might no longer be the manufacturing and shipping centers they once were, they are now the heart of London’s financial district- so business is still taking place where business took place all those years ago. Where the East End used to be the home of Jewish migrants in the early 19th century it is now the home of a lot of Middle Eastern and Eastern European migrants. So the community has changed but the city landscape and the way people interact with each other has stayed the same.

So in 5 years will being a Londoner mean something different? In all likelihood, no, probably not. This city has always seen change and the communities have always been very fluid but what it means to live in this city and to interact with other communities has stayed the same.

Do you consider yourself to be a Londoner?

Personally I do consider myself to be a Londoner. I grew up in the suburbs of East London and, except for a few years away, I’ve always lived here. My family were immigrants to London in about 1920 and we’ve never left. That being said though, even I’m still discovering this city. I’ve always lived north of the river so anywhere south feels completely foreign to me!

What’s interesting with this project though is that a lot of the people on the Chocolate Films team aren’t from London and have only moved here in the last few years or months. They are just discovering the city like so many of the Londoners we have spoken to as part of the project on 1000londoners.com. It’s exciting to see just what more there is to discover who the other people in this city are! We’re just at the start so I’m sure even more will be unearthed as we continue. 
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