How do you capture the essence of a city? How do you condense centuries of history? How do you represent hundreds of thousands of people’s stories? And how do you change the way those outside the city think about all of this?
When we read the brief from the Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid team, asking for filmmakers to encapsulate the city in a five minute film it was both daunting and thrilling. It’s a challenge like no other. There’s so much you didn’t realise you didn’t know, impossible decisions to make about what to include, and the constant awareness of the size of your audience.
And it’s an audience who love their city, who are proud and protective. People who want to share their city, but who want it to be seen and judged for what it has and not what it may have lost.
Our aim was to tell a little of the story of how Sunderland became the place it is today, and to consider where we could be in four years time if we made enough of a noise and put ourselves back on the map.
We wanted to unashamedly show off all of the highlights to life on our glorious coastline. We’re not a giant city, our buildings may not be imposing, but this is no bad thing. We’re big enough to have the richness of diversity and differences of opinion, but small enough to cultivate genuinely strong communities.
We’re all shaped by a grand history and heritage, by the stories we hear growing up. We’re influenced by the distinctive landscape, living astride a great river. And we know we can always escape to a pristine and peaceful stretch of coastline.
Each new place we went to film we were overwhelmed with enthusiastic suggestions of what else we absolutely had to capture.
We met so many inspiring people: Anthony Hope and Hollie Coxon – who run the Creative Learning Department at the Sunderland Empire - two inexhaustible stars who work incredibly hard to bring the joy of dance, song and theatre to a vast range of community groups.
The Cultural Spring, an organisation in its third year, who have helped restore the arts and culture back into neighbourhoods and communities around Sunderland making participation genuinely accessible.
Corrine Kilvington at Theatre Space North East a friendly and generous force of nature, the perfect teacher and talented building renovator, having refurbed a disused city centre space to beomce a permanent creative space.
And we have met so many people whose lives have been changed by the choirs, workshops, gigs and classes they have been attending. People who have found new friends, rediscovered an old passion and been given that most valuable gift of place and a means to express themselves.
What will it mean to win? A city transformed. Sunderland reborn. Culture would dominate the conversation. The already rich arts scene would multiply. Curiosity would bring people out of their homes and back into their communities.
It would be a gift like no other, a once in a generation opportunity to create a new, optimistic, forward-facing vision for the city.