My short documentary, Tianah, tells the story of my friend, 23 year old fashion entrepreneur Christianah Jones. Tianah is what she told me to call her when I first met her in Beijing in the summer of 2014, where we both had scholarships to do an internship, and we hit it off.
My documentary is about how she started as a teenager selling her own clothes on the Depop app from her London home, and today, just four years later, is the Instagram-famous fashion designer whose products are worn by world-famous stars from Beyoncé to Bella Hadid.
You can check out the Christianah Jones brand on Instagram.
In 2017 I directed, filmed, edited and produced Tianah over the course of six months, as we could only film on the rare weekends when Christianah and I were both free. I made the whole film with just a second-hand DSLR camera I bought online and iMovie.
For the b-roll I went to the gig of an electronic music producer I like at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and filmed the young people coming in and out, chatting, dancing etc. This really captured some of the late-night London vibe I know and love.
I lived in Brixton back then so also filmed out of my bedroom window and at the skate park across from my Stockwell Road flat. We filmed the interviews on Bricklane, in Homerton, and the last one in my Westminster flat I had just moved to.
What I love about filmmaking is creating the socio-economic angle, finding the people I want to collaborate with, and working on the interview questions, what the style of the backdrop and the people in my film are going to be like, and finding the perfect music and locations.
Once I’ve chosen the songs, I listen to them as I walk around London, usually in the areas I am going to be filming in, and that’s how I feel the emotions and come up with most of the ideas that make up the viewer’s experience of the film.
The challenges, for me, came with what is required of you technically to make a film. I am self-taught with the camera and the editing apps, and had only ever made one film before, earlier in 2017, which someone had pieced together for me on my instruction, and so it was quite a laborious process using iMovie myself this time because I was learning as I went along – and such technicalities do not come naturally to me!
The reward from acquiring the dexterity to use iMovie yourself is that you get to cut each little segment – down to the finest detail – exactly how you want it. So it was worth it.
An Inspirational Message
Christianah’s story is a really inspiring message that I had to get out there: you can “make it” starting out with nothing but an iPhone and ambition. It’s 2018, baby.
Young people fret a lot about not having the specific qualifications, experience, connections or knowledge to start out on achieving their ambitions. They create these mental hurdles that stop them taking action, or make them beat around the bush, when the secret is to just do it. Just start. You fail and get better and try again and keep going.
You can feel deluded and frustrated whilst you are still a beginner but you must persevere and eventually you get there. That’s how Christianah did it.
It was witnessing Christianah’s journey, combined with my interest in economics, that compelled me to set out on making the film. The economic theme of the film aims to tackle the trendy aversion to capitalism that exits among a lot of young people nowadays. Profit-making is viewed as not a good cause, or as a sign of “greed”.
In actual fact, it is necessary for human prosperity, and the documentary about Christianah Jones conveys that motivational, human side of the profit motive.
About the Filmmaker
Sophie Sandor is a writer and documentary filmmaker. She’s worked at the Institute of Economic Affairs as Programmes Manager. But she was also at the Adam Smith Institute as a research associate. You can find her work on Vimeo.