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Cab drivers are given a voice in MDX student's documentary

Bilal Bounit captures conversations of cabbies and poets for On The Cotton project

MDX film student Bilal Bounit's documentary was screened at the London Transport Museum after he was commissioned to follow black cabbies and poets as they met and travelled around London.

Part of a wider project funded by Arts Council England to mark the 200th anniversary of the first licensed Hackney Cab service in the capital, poet Dan Simpson brought together seven pairs of black cab drivers and local poets worked to co-create poetry that celebrates the iconic black cab, cabbies, passengers, and the Knowledge.

Dan first saw the connection between poetry and London’s cab trade through his father as he listened to him speak from memory the street names and directions from one place to another, as described in the Knowledge of London book which forms the basis of qualifying as a London cabbie.

He said: “These read a bit like a strange poem, conjuring up romantic images of London’s infrastructure and a sense of movement and motion.

“As I explored this further, I realised that cabbies themselves have a lot in common with poets: independence, an eye for detail, feats of memory – and, most importantly, a desire to connect with and transport people from one space to another.”

The former Canterbury Laureate had seen Bilal’s second year film project ‘Rice’ and wanted him to document and showcase the lives and works of both cabbies and poets and “the magic of their meetings.”

Bilal did not begin with a clear vision but knew he wanted to capture the raw and undermined brilliance of what black cab drivers are and mean, which he described as a “fascinating experience”.

He said: “I often work through doing so it was a case of going with the flow and capture things so we sat in the car and we talked.

“I love working on films that allow me to talk and listen to such interesting people from all walks of life. I value real people with real stories — and I'm learning cab drivers have endless amounts to tell!”

The large number of interactions observed by Bilal allowed him to give cabbies a voice in a creative way through On The Cotton.

He said: “It’s amazing, both the great lengths that these cab drivers go to and how overshadowed they are.

“Seeing this film in the middle of London was great- the amount of support I got was unbelievable and there was a lot of interest in the project.”

Bilal describes his style of documentaries as “very naturalistic, conversational based and poetic.”

“I like to focus on what people are saying and the emotion of it,” he added.

His dream now is to submit the work that he has made to film festivals, in the hope that will lead to more recognition and commissions.”

To find out about studying film at MDX, click here.

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