Rachel Wang and—
— 1000 Londoners
by Sarah Gregory
As part of the EFG London Jazz Festival taking place at the Barbican on 17-25 November, 1000 Londoners: Windrush Generations will be screened. We had the opportunity to interview Rachel Wang, director of Chocolate Films, who has helped to create this unique portrait of the capital.
Tell us about the 1000 Londoners: Windrush Generations project
The 1000 Londoners project is now a multi-award winning web series and the flagship project of Chocolate Films (of which Mark Currrie and I are the Creative Directors). We commissioned the project because we were both passionate about telling the human stories of London. As documentary filmmakers we went into diverse, rich environments - rich in people from varied backgrounds, cultures, jobs and life experiences. We realised we had a unique opportunity to explore what London looks like through a different lens.
Each week we publish the story of at least one Londoner on our site. We wanted to share a range of voices and celebrate the richness of the city, so that other Londoners could see with whom they shared their capital. Community cohesion was at the heart of the project and our passion for achieving that has been the driving force behind it. We had a vision that when a Londoner is on the tube opposite someone who might not look like they do, they might be able to relate to, or at least understand, that person a little better.
To mark the celebration of the Windrush generation we thought it would be great to focus on Londoners who were from, have links to or identify as, Caribbean. We have twelve Londoners who have identified as first, second, third or fourth generation Caribbean involved and their stories will be screened at the Barbican, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. My Mother was from Jamaica, so personally this has been an amazing project to curate.
In light of the recent national scandal there could not have been a better occasion to screen the film. The project wasn’t commissioned as a reaction because we are not journalists but documentary filmmakers. Events out of our control meant that what we were filming became topical. One of our interviewees is a teacher and an activist so we interviewed her at a protest which meant that we could draw out her fascinating authentic story about how the Windrush scandal was having an impact on her life as a Londoner.
What are your hopes for the project?
We need to get to 1000 stories and we are currently on 310, but we are in no rush: discovering the tapestry of stories that make up London is a process!
Chocolate Films was set up 17 years ago by Mark and I, at my kitchen table, with no idea how to make films and no investment. It has always been both a film company and a social enterprise, and we are proud of the the work we do and our commitment to give back to our local community.
We often combine making powerful, beautiful, professional films, documentaries and digital content for museums, galleries and brands such as Jeep, alongside running workshops with disadvantaged young people and vulnerable adults, training the next generation of filmmakers and working with hard to reach communities to tell their stories. We are proud that we are part of the arts industry and that we have 26 full-time members of staff with offices in both London and Glasgow.
How do you find your subjects?
We are constantly engaged with our local community through outreach work. We are often in schools so we see lots of different people everyday. When people find out about our project they get excited and often know someone or they spread the word. We also have strategic partners who wish to collaborate on a specific theme or project
Recently we did an amazing project with the London Mayor, which raised our profile and produced ten wonderful stories of Londoners. The Mayor wanted to encourage and inspire Londoners to get fit and be active. The idea was to incorporate anything from chair-based activities to running a marathon so that it was inclusive to all.
How do you find the film industry?
I wanted to work in media but no one would give me the opportunity, so I decided to set up my own media company and work for myself. So I have not been directly involved with the industry or had to rely on it as I am not a part of it. We create our own ethos and values within the company, and value inclusion as part of the British film industry. We celebrate diversity with projects like the 1000 Londoners project and 60% of our employees at Chocolate Films are women.
What inspires you?
When I set up Chocolate Films I was really passionate about wanting to make films myself. I don't like to take no for an answer so when no one was giving me the opportunity to do what I wanted to I felt I had no other choice. It's just my character. You only have one life, so I wanted to live it, doing the things that I wanted to and felt most passionate about.
What does good look like?
For me equal pay is incredibly important. I want fairness and equality of opportunity for everyone. I want more risk takers, because I recognise that commissioning a wide range of stories is the only way to break the mould and challenge the status quo. There need to be more women in media both in front of and behind the camera.
At Chocolate Films we are showcasing voices in order to break with stereotypes and show actual human stories. As a left handed woman of dual heritage, my Mother from the Caribbean and my Father being Jewish, I have not faced many of the barriers faced by many black women because I am an entrepreneur and business owner, not because they don’t exist.
We consider ourselves an inclusive environment and we are continually improving and adapting to achieve this. By employing women and training them to be filmmakers we are contributing to changing the shape of our society.