Film buff Bilal Bounit has been on a “taxi binge” following poets and black cabbies around London for a documentary to mark the 200th anniversary of the first licensed Hackney Cab in London. 

The 23-year-old media student at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus, near where he lives, was commissioned by the Arts Council for a project that was screened at the London Transport Museum.

He followed poet Dan Simpson, who was bringing together seven cab drivers and seven poets to celebrate the bi-centennial taxi trade ferrying people around.

“It was a case of ‘going with the flow’ and capturing things,” Bilal recalls. “So we sat in the cabs and talked a lot.

“I work on films that allow me to talk and listen to such interesting people from all walks of life, real people with real stories. Cab drivers have endless amounts to tell.” 

Poet Dan, the former Canterbury Laureate, had seen Bilal’s film project from his second year at Middlesex and wanted him to document the lives of cabbies and poets and “the magic of their meetings”. 

Dan saw the connection between poetry and London’s cab trade through his father going through all the street names and directions from memory that cabbies learn by heart for ‘the Knowledge’ before they get their Hackney Carriage licenses. The street names and directions “read a bit like an arcane ritual or a strange poem”.

Dan explains: “They conjure up romantic images of London’s infrastructure and sense of movement and motion.

“I realised that cabbies have a lot in common with poets — independence, an eye for detail, feats of memory and a desire to connect with and transport people from one space to another.” 

Bilal, meanwhile, didn’t begin filming with a clear vision, but knew he wanted to capture “the raw and undermined brilliance” of what black cab drivers are. 

The sheer number of interactions Bilal observed allowed him to give cabbies a creative voice for his On The Cotton snapshot. 

“It’s amazing the lengths these cabbies go to and how overshadowed they are,” Bilal observes. 

His style of film-making is “naturalistic, conversational and poetic” about what people are saying and their emotions, which fitted in nicely with Dan Simpson’s concept of 200 years of London’s black cabs.