In conversation with Jonny White

“Social justice, alongside trying to educate and inspire with stories, is at the heart of my work.” … “for me this film highlights the solidarity of our community”

With everything that’s happening around the world, it can be difficult to ground yourself in reality. The streets are bare and the world feels so lonely right now.

The short video Leeds: A City in Lockdown by Jonny White thoroughly encapsulates all of these emotions, whilst remaining humbling and beautifully put together. 

After seeing the video of my favourite City in Lockdown on my Facebook page, I felt the urge to share it with as many people as I can. It was then that I saw everybody else who had watched the video was feeling the exact same emotions. With comments such as; “A very sobering piece of media,” “That was very chilling & eery!” and “Beautiful work.”, I’d definitely recommend watching the video below before reading this interview with the video’s creator, Jonny White. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where you trained and something about your past experience.

I like to stay creative as it’s when I’m at my happiest, so I push myself to dive into projects stretching across different creative media outlets. Primarily, I work as a filmmaker and digital artist – these outlets provide me with the highest sense of personal fulfilment and satisfaction. I think it’s important that my focus is that I’m creating for myself. Social justice, alongside trying to educate and inspire with stories, is at the heart of my work.

I studied Film & TV Production at York St John University, which is where my passion for storytelling enhanced. I stayed in York for 6 years, where I met many local filmmakers and like-minded creatives. Meeting these people exposed me to a higher level of filmmaking and opened up doors to productions which I feel very lucky to have been a part of. I would actually like to credit these creatives for having a big hand in helping improve my confidence in my abilities. I’ve worked on short films, documentaries, music videos and feature-length productions. It’s amazing what you learn by just doing it – no, Nike are not sponsoring me!

What projects did you have before the current pandemic? 

​I had a short film called ‘Justice’ in pre-production that was set to begin shooting this Sunday (17th May), but of course that has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. ‘

Please tell me more.

Justice’ is a story about a woman who finds herself contained inside a dilapidated basement in the midst of a nationwide manhunt for a convicted killer that has escaped from prison – although all is not what it seems.

I was also set to be working on another local filmmaker’s projects which have also been postponed. 

How has the recent pandemic affected your work? What have you been doing in the meantime?

I have tried to use the sudden influx of free time positively to fine-tune ideas, plans and scripts for future projects, to make sure they’re as strong as they can be. I’m lucky enough to be working as a Digital Content Officer for Northern School of Contemporary Dance, which has allowed me to work from home, providing stability and a sense of normality in these unprecedented times. Producing digital content on a full-time basis, alongside my personal projects, has kept me regularly creating, which is incredibly important to me. 

Can you tell us a little about the message behind the video… 

I wanted to illustrate how a city as bustling and vibrant as Leeds has been affected by this pandemic. Everyone will have different interpretations, but for me this film highlights the solidarity of our community by adhering to the government’s lockdown guidelines. I know there have been select groups that have disrespected the social distancing guidelines, but I think this film shows that collectively we are doing our bit. We are all making sacrifices. We are currently living in a pivotal moment of history – I know it’s said so often, but it really is unprecedented times we find ourselves in and this is a film I hope people can watch in 20 years with profound recollection. For me, on a personal level, that is what filmmaking and storytelling is all about. It’s all subjective though!

Where did the inspiration come from to create the film? 

I guess part of it was just an urge to physically create something. I’ve been working on projects in the background, which have been primarily admin, organisational tasks or video-editing. I wanted to physically shoot media and make something relevant that everyone going through the same thing can relate to in some way – whether they love or hate it. 

I think contrast in filmmaking is fascinating and I loved the idea of filming something that focused on that contrast of experiencing a major city that we as an audience associate with crowds of people, but what is now essentially a ghost town. I wanted to create something both beautiful to watch, but hauntingly poignant concurrently. This is real life and something we are all living through and I wanted to reflect that in the film.

How long did the video take to shoot? 

I shot the film over 3 days. One morning, one midday time and one evening. I wanted to get different times of the day to create a more evocative atmosphere, but also to adhere to the government guidelines and stick to one piece of daily exercise per day! 

Which locations did you cover? 

Beckett Park, Hyde Park and the City Centre.

What have you enjoyed the most about working on the project? 

Being able to get out of the house and combine daily exercise with filming has been a lovely experience, despite what is going on. It’s a piece that I felt would have an effect on people in some way or another, so I was both excited and incredibly anxious to share it – feelings I think come natural to most artists and creators when sharing a new work. It’s all part of the process that ultimately I have very much enjoyed. It seems the film has been received very well, so I’m pleased!

What have you found the most challenging about it? 

Ensuring the film was tasteful. It’s all well and good creating something that is “aesthetically pleasing”, but it was important to me that the message came across correctly, as this is real life. Every single person is living this. We are all making sacrifices, which I wanted to reflect quietly and elegantly in the film. I didn’t want the film to come across as an obnoxious and shallow cinematic film, but more so a poignant reflection of what sacrifices our society has made.

What are your future plans? Do you have anything coming up?

I’m currently working to reschedule my short film ‘Justice’ that I mentioned earlier. Keep an eye out for that! However, in the immediate future I’m working on a documentary focusing on mental health in men. It’s a subject that is extremely important to me, and I’m making this film to contribute to the ever-growing awareness that is being raised for men’s mental health. I hope it inspires and encourages men to talk, and that it’s okay. Due to COVID-19 and social distancing, I have asked any men interested in sharing their stories and experiences anonymously to send me voice recordings which will accompany the visuals in the film. I think the voice recordings will make the film feel much more personal and emotionally raw as well. My email is [email protected] if anyone would like to reach out.

Anything else to add?

I would just like to thank key workers across the globe who are working to keep everyone safe and countries functioning. This isn’t just health professionals, but anyone working in some capacity on the public front lines to keep things ticking over whether that’s retail, construction, delivery – to name a few. I think one positive to come from this situation is that we truly know what the important things in life are. 

I think it’s fair to say that this 3 minute & 14 second  film has left a lot of viewers feeling an array of complex emotions, each of which reflect the current situation in Leeds and around the world today. It’s a piece which portrays the COVID-19 pandemic in a beautiful, cinematic and unique way which I, personally, think will be a staple in history to exemplify 2020. 

Take a look at Jonny’s social media channels and support his work: 

YouTube Channel


Photograph provided by Jonny White.

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