Independent Filmmaker João Paulo Simões talks to Laércio Costa about the upcoming film project Londoners.
Laércio Costa: To what extent has the fact that you’re a Portuguese filmmaker living in Britain influenced your involvement in this project?
João Paulo Simões: It could definitely be said that my involvement in Londoners has a very personal angle. It’s being written by a close friend and collaborator (London-based actor Alexandre Guedes de Sousa), but, as it was presented to me, I immediately related to the concept on a human level – as someone who’s come to this country in the pursuit of what he couldn’t attain in his own.
There’s also, and perhaps more importantly, the artistic/professional side. The way I see it, this project is the culmination of a lot that I’ve been expressing and exploring since I started living and working permanently in the UK. It will incorporate a lot of what my experience in the documentary field has taught me, as well. Particularly, the work I continue to be commissioned to make under the banner of Frontier Media, which has an ethical commitment to worthwhile causes and has helped promote social integration of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, amongst other things.
LC: Despite the multicultural side of London, Londoners brings racism to the foreground. Don’t you find that these two aspects together remain a paradox? How will the lens of your camera view and illustrate this?
JPS: Without a doubt. England is one of the European countries which most and better promotes the integration of different cultures within established communities. But that comes at a cost. There’s the unspoken, yet quite generalised, view that such approach can be in detriment of the traditions which have held this country together for centuries.
For almost everything official you’re required to do here, you’re asked to fill an Equal Opportunities form, in which you’re requested to state your ethnicity, etc. This might be in place to ensure that there’s no discrimination, but it also very immediately puts you into ‘a box’. What Londoners will explore, as a means to illustrate this dichotomy, is the way you can end up paying a very high price for either not knowing your own ‘box’ or attempting to move to another one. With such a rigid Class System still in place, such concept will unavoidably extend to issues other than race.
LC: This very same multicultural side and its subsequent tensions have already been explored in other film projects. What will Londoners add and bring of different or new to the 21st Century spectator?
JPS: I often say, when talking about this project, that I’m still to see to this date a multi-character film that fulfils me as a viewer. By that, I mean, more specifically: a piece with different narrative strands, interweaving the lives of various characters in a way that is not contrived or too reliant on the notion of chance. The portrayal of a modern, urban city and how it determines the fate of the characters is one of the most imperative concepts to get right, in this particular case.
As in a lot of my fictional work, this is about identity. Becoming a Londoner can be perceived not just as a new identity, but also as a new status through which the characters believe they can succeed. And there’s on the other hand, the cultural identity you somewhat corrupt (if not sacrifice) along the way.
This is where reality will begin to seep through the narrative. The film will incorporate the accounts of real people – and the bridge between those and the dramatic elements will be established by a fictional young Scottish filmmaker who, when forced to take on a job as a street fundraiser, initiates a personal documentary project entitled Oysters (itself a reference to the TFL card all Londoners use in real life - and through which their whole lives can be, to a great extent, mapped out).
In this factual film-within-the-fiction film, individuals are captured on camera and given the chance to briefly share the reasons for leaving their country of origin and what their hopes were once they arrived in London.
LC: Londoners has been labelled on your blog as “thought-provoking”. What reaction does this project intend to “provoke”?
JPS: The main thing for us is that this is a project which is entirely relevant for our times. It’s deeply rooted in social observation and will therefore invite the viewer to relate on an emotional level to the transient quality of the different characters’ lives.
With this, comes a good degree of realisation. We expect actual Londoners to watch it and, once they step out of their homes, to feel their surroundings as a continuation of what they’d just seen... To perceive the people sitting next to them on the tube as characters from the film...
The film will also touch upon key-aspects of contemporary British society and some uncomfortable truths of the recent History of this country. But it’s the humanity of the characters and real life contributors which will give it its global appeal, making Londoners about our place in an increasingly alienating and insular modern world.
João Paulo Simões is the Producer/Director of the notorious Antlers of Reason and various other fiction films, documentaries and music videos. Amongst the projects he has in development is the documentary ‘Beyond Climate Change’ - http://beyondclimatechangedocumentary.blogspot.com/
Laércio Costa is a Portuguese Copywriter with experience in Journalism - http://laerciodcosta.carbonmade.com/