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Categories: Interviews

Lynsey Ford chats to Chocolate Films founders Rachel Wang and Mark Currie about their sprawling documentary project 1000 Londoners.

Rachel Wang filming for 1000 Londoners | © Chocolate Films

Rachel Wang and Mark Currie are the founders of Chocolate Films. They work with teams to produce and direct video content for a wide range of people; from corporate clients to local communities, devising and managing projects for Chocolate Films Workshops. They are also the creative directors of 1000 Londoners, a documentary project and the largest ever produced about life in a city. Here, Rachel and Mark talk to Lynsey Ford about some of the highlights of their work to date.

How was 1000 Londoners conceived?

RW: We came up with the idea for 1000 Londoners following the amazing range of experiences we had shooting in London. Chocolate Films is run as a social enterprise, so our client base ranges from the most luxurious brands to the most deserving charities. This gives our team a privileged perspective of the city, meeting people of all walks of life every day of the week. At the time of the riots in 2011, we were struck by how different media representation of the city was to what we were experiencing, so we set out to create a video project about London life. Our starting point was the idea of creating a ‘symphony of a city’ style of film, such as ‘Man With A Movie Camera’. But we thought that compressing a city to something of that length would inevitably make it from a single perspective, as Julien Temple did with London Babylon. We wanted to create something that had multiple perspectives – with as many artists as possible involved in the creation. We thought that a series of short films about Londoners made by lots of different filmmakers would achieve that. And then we investigated what would be a good statistical sample size for a random group of people from a city – the answer was very close to 1000 (we rounded it up a little).

Audience Hackney Attic|© Chocolate Films. The audience at a 1000 Londoners Movie Night for ‘Century: 10 Women x 10 Decades’ last year at the Hackney Attic (Hackney Picturehouse)

How long is the project?

RW: It’s going to be nearer to 10 years! We originally wanted to make and publish the films very fast, but we soon realised that they benefited from each having a bit of space. We’re publishing them twice a week (with the occasional exceptional week where we publish more). The ten year life-span of the project is making the project more exciting because it allows the project to naturally document the tremendous changes taking place in the city. There are several Londoners who we’ve already filmed who’ve had to move out or close shops due to the changes in the city.

Yogesh: Londoner #276 | © Chocolate Films
Recently moved to London from India with his wife and daughter to chase his dreams

What do you love about London?

RW: London is incredible – it’s fascinating and undefinable. But for us it’s all about the people. It’s the mixture of cultures, opinions, and lifestyles.

What has been the best thing about the project?

RW: The best thing about the project is when we go out and discover a story that we couldn’t have invented. The woman who accidentally discovered her biological family while visiting her adoptive father in hospital. The activist who persuaded the shop-keepers on Oxford Street to let black women work on the shop floor, rather than in the stock room. The couture designer who has two full-size pigs at home and regularly takes them for walks round her local park.

What have you learned from people’s tales?

RW: That generalising about groups of people is always problematic. The moment you take every person on their own merits, the world becomes a much more positive place!

What has been some of the challenges faced?

RW: Access and trust are the two biggest barriers for documentary makers.

What has been your favourite video?

MC: I like John – I had a really fun morning shooting the film. He’s been brewing beer every week for ten years in a small room on the empty site of the city’s oldest brewery to ensure that the records continue uninterrupted.

What has been your own personal journey as a London filmmaker?

RW: We’ve always worked together, from setting up the company in 2001 (part time from a kitchen table), to now, where we have a team of 21 in London and a separate office in Glasgow. Our highlights are always those moments where you shoot something that you could never have had the chance to see otherwise.

How would you like to see London regenerated?

MC: I’d like to see more homes for the people who work in London. And I’d like new developments be truly mixed communities. Everyone benefits from having a diverse group of neighbours. From the documentary side of things, I’d like to see less private space because it means that there are now huge tracts of the city’s public spaces which do not allow us to film at all without permits.

Yvonne: Londoner #11. Rachel Wang’s Mother | © Chocolate Films

Is there any place in London you would like to film?

RW: Lots of places! We’d like to film within private historical working spaces such as The London Library or the London Metal Exchange. And then there are the places that have significant limitations – The Houses of Parliament, for example. But as well as spaces, there are also plenty of communities and groups of people that we would like to work with and represent within the project. People working in financial services and the traveller community, for example.

Have you ever shied away from a story?

RW: No, never. Many Londoners have fallen through at different stages. But we’ve never thought that a story was inappropriate. Our biggest reason for saying no is that the story is too similar to one of the films we have already.

What advice would you give to new London filmmakers, inspired by your project?

RW: Get in touch with us at Chocolate Films, and get involved.

Tell me about your celebrity supporters. How did you find Ken Livingstone as a ‘subject’?

RW: In truth we don’t want or need many celebrities, as to have too many would be over-representative of how many famous people there are in London. So, we only really approach people who we think have a unique perspective on London life. We approached Alexandra Burke because she is a very contemporary face at the entertainment industry. She’s extremely talented and hard working, and she is carving an amazing career by moving between reality TV, the traditional music industry, acting and musicals. We felt that Ken Livingstone is such a symbol of London politics for decades and I (Mark) went out of our way to find him. He turned up late because he was out doing the shopping for his disabled neighbour. He invited me to his home, made me a cup of tea and was extremely friendly and amenable. I spent an hour shooting him while he did some gardening.

Have you had support from the (current) Mayor of London’s office or from other MPs?

RW: We’ve had some amazing support from elements of the Mayor of London’s office, such as London Sport and the Mayor’s culture team. And some London MPs have been fantastic. Diane Abbott even came and spoke at our International Women’s Day screening last year. We’d like more London politicians in the project though – we only have a green party politician and a Labour politician in the 1000, but are looking for someone from each party.

Do you think that this digital project should be seen as a love letter to London, reflecting the spirit of Londoners – showing triumph over adversity, particularly in the event of recent global attacks?

RW: We see it as a love letter to London as it is – warts and all.

What would you say to one who is interested but unsure that their story is worthy?

RW: It’s likely that they’re exactly the people we’re looking for. Often, people assume that we’re looking for people who are flamboyant and telegenic, or Londoners who are doing something quirky or have been on TV before. However we are really looking for people whose lives and experiences are rarely seen on screen.

Brenda: Londoner #285| © Chocolate Films.
At 84, she stays active through chair-based dancing at A.S.K.I. (Croydon). This film is part of the ‘London Moves Me’ season, sponsored by London Sport.

Please tell me more about 1000 Londoners projects at Chocolate Films (workshops/events)

RW: One of the most valuable parts of the project is the screening programme, supported by Film London and the BFI. It allows us to present themed collections of the films, and to do Q and As with the filmmakers and the Londoners. They’re always surprising and entertaining. We have planned screenings later on in the year.

How can one sponsor a Londoner?

RW: If you or your organisation would like to sponsor one or more Londoners just get in touch at info@chocolatefilms.com to arrange a meeting. Last year’s season about sports participation in the city sponsored by London Sport was one of the most exciting we’ve done to date as it took us into so many spaces that we’d never have thought of visiting. We’re just embarking on an amazing new season that will be screened this summer, so watch this space.

How can one submit a film proposal?

RW: Just drop a line to info@chocolatefilms.com, or follow the link on 1000londoners.com

Do you intend to do any follow ups to the stories of participants in the foreseeable future on another project?

RW: As the project matures, we are planning some new films in the same locations as earlier films to highlight how the city is changing. I think it would be a great idea to revisit some of the Londoners further down the line too.

Mike: Londoner #260. Childminder Mike part of the recent ‘Man Up!’ season about masculinity and what it means to be a man in London today| © Chocolate Films


© Lynsey Ford | 2018

Posted on Apr 28, 2018

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