Britain in a Day

Britain in a Day

d. Morgan Matthews / 2012 / UK / 90 mins

Following on the heels of the Ridley Scott-produced Life in a Day (2011) is Britain in a Day, an attempt to distil over 10,000 videos of daily life in Britain into one cohesive whole. Morgan Matthews takes up the reins of director in place of Kevin Macdonald and whilst the programme has now been and gone on both BBC2 and BBC iPlayer, many of the films can be viewed in their entirety at

Over the next few months, this archive will be built up and added to, the result being a scrapbook of snapshots that show people’s experiences on the day the footage was filmed, November 11th 2011. For those of you who might have missed the feature length production and Matthews’ monumental task of editing 800 hours of footage into one film, you may well want to check out the archive as it grows over time, the clips can be organised by time and area, so you can see exactly how your little corner of the UK has been captured and represented.

I criticised Koyaanisqatsi recently, and suggested that Reggio’s film was at its most inspirational when the audience was given the ability to respond to the images in the most individual way possible. Likewise, Matthews’ attempt to link together a fraction of the collected footage is at its best when one of the subjects reaches out and touches you in some personal manner. It’s the sort of idea that encourages discussion, without an overt narrative or political message, a multitude of reactions are possible.

In many ways it reminds me of a recent project by Daniel Knauf, creator of one of HBO’s most original series, Carnivále. BXX Haunted can be found, free to explore at and allows the viewer to completely control how they engage with the story, with the footage being divided by time and the multiple cameras’ positioning within the “haunted mansion”. Your choice is how to watch the narrative evolve, choosing which characters to focus on and catch the spooky occurrences as they happen in an increasingly investigative manner.

This is in many ways, the form that Britain in a Day has now taken in its YouTube archive, and the myriad of clips are somehow more inviting without being organised, over-scored and edited, open to discovery and linked in their creators’ desire to preserve moments of their history, as a communal and digital time-capsule.

I was recently involved in scouring through the submissions for Wales and found myself becoming quite emotionally attached to some of the families who appeared more than once. Tasked with selecting the few intended to represent our region became increasingly difficult, but what shone through most was the enthusiasm with which these amateur film-makers documented their lives, and described the world around them.

Most unusual, was seeing this footage completely disorganised. One of our jobs was to make sure that the footage met with compliance of water-shed viewing, and I’m pleased to say that for the most part, this has made little to no difference in what we have been able to preserve. Hopefully what you see in our upcoming selection for Wales is genuine and representational, something Matthews clearly went to great lengths to achieve in his feature. It’s been a fascinating project, that’s still got a long way to go, and should encourage the further democratisation of film-making that’s spreading throughout the world.


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