Sixty one strangers were approached by filmmaker CK Goldiing on a sunny day last May and the same ask was put to each of them - a request for a hug.
Their reactions, captured by Goldiing on his phone as he made his way on foot to Sheffield city centre from his home in the suburb of Walkley, were turned into a short social-experiment style film and after making its US premiere at the International Mobile Film Festival in San Diego last month, it is being screened at Sheffield Doc/Fest in June.
Humanity at its greatest
“The film shows humanity at its best, but also, it shows Sheffield at its greatest,” says Goldiing. “It’s unimaginable that such heart and soul would sprout from such humble seeds.”The 39-year-old says he was challenged to ask for the hugs whilst sitting in his kitchen on May 7, though more details of where the idea came from are revealed in the film itself.
“I went out and did it the next day for a very specific reason and the reason is mentioned in the film too. I am an overthinker. I knew the more I sat on the idea, despite the fact I knew there was potential for it to be beautiful, there was more chance I’d talk myself out of it.”
Filmed in one take, 61 Hugs, cost nothing to produce . Goldiing says he spent just £2.79 - and that was on a pint after filming. “I was an emotional wreck, I earned it,” he jokes. The film, which was released in September, follows Goldiing’s journey as it unfolds, revealing unexpected and heartwarming twists.
“The fact that the first person I asked was so open to it put me in a good state of mind. That wafted through me for the whole thing,” he says. In fact, most were forthcoming. Only four rejected his request for a hug.
“Despite nerves and anxieties, I didn’t actually expect a disaster. I knew that I was going to encounter warm people. There was never doubt in my mind. But I didn’t necessarily expect the magnitude of the warmth.”
Interacting with strangers
The appeal of interacting with strangers goes back to 2015 when Goldiing, whose day job is as a PR specialist creating content for brands, set himself a challenge.
“I’ve grown up in Sheffield all my life and I had started to feel a little bit claustrophobic and just wanted to have an adventure,” he recalls.
A professional photographer, he temporarily upped sticks to London armed with only his camera, a bag of clothes and £100, with the aim of doing promotional shoots for 100 emerging musicians in the capital, before his money ran out. They could pay him as much or as little as they wanted.
Goldiing managed to live there for six months thanks to their donations and the kindness of strangers who offered him food and shelter. His interest in unscripted storytelling and challenge projects has continued to develop since.
“[61 Hugs] wasn’t easy because this was, of all the challenges I’ve done to date, the most intimate as it required me to touch another human. All my other challenges, which have always been underpinned by me interacting with strangers have been on a level of speaking to someone.
“I was terrified because it was unknown. But knowing what I do about content and storytelling, I knew there was the potential for something beautiful to unravel.”
It was the fist challenge Goldiing, who now splits his time between Sheffield and London, had completed in his home city and the film will be shown there, on the outdoor Light Cinema Free Screen as part of the Made In Yorkshire section at Doc/Fest on June 6, 9 and 11.
“I’m proud of the festival anyway and Sheffield for it, but I’m happy they valued the film enough to screen it in my home city.”
The film can also be viewed at 61hugs.co.uk