University archive inspires Hollywood directors

                Head of Special Collections Fiona Courage and director Kevin Ma

Head of Special Collections Fiona Courage and director Kevin Macdonald in the Mass Observation Archive stores in the University of Sussex Library

A film to be made by Hollywood directors Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald was inspired by day diaries kept in the University of Sussex Mass Observation Archive.

People around the world are being asked to upload personal films about their lives on YouTube tomorrow (Saturday 24 July) for the biggest ever user-generated film to be made. The films will then be edited into a single composition, to be premiered at the world-famous Sundance Film Festival in January 2011.

The project, called Life In A Day, to be executive-produced by Bladerunner and Gladiator director Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald, was inspired by the day diaries and reports commissioned by Mass Observation during the inter-war years and World War Two, which now form part of the Archive, housed at the University of Sussex.

During its initial period of operation the Mass Observation Project collected a vast archive of material including diaries, surveys, observations and ephemera which provides us with a unique insight into many aspects of everyday life over the last 70 years that would otherwise be lost.

Kevin Macdonald (the film director, whose previous work includes The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void and State of Play) visited the Mass Observation Archive in the University of Sussex Libary in July to film a short piece to promote Life in A Day on YouTube, which is also involved in the project. In the film he says: "This place was the inspiration for me for Life in a Day".Mr Macdonald had visited the Archive ten years earlier while making a film about one of Mass Observation’s founders, Humphrey Jennings, and was fascinated by what he saw there.

While at Sussex in July, he met Head of Special Collections Fiona Courage, who showed him around the Archive and who was "directed" by the film-maker in a couple of scenes.

The film, in which Macdonald says that Mass Observation was his inspiration for Day in a Life, has already been seen on YouTube by more than a quarter of a million viewers. It is part of a series of films to encourage people around the world to take part in the project.

Only films made during the 24 hours of 24 July will be considered for the "final cut" and should feature events and themes personal and important to the maker. The aim is create a "people’s film" that captures human life in all its variety around the world.

Fiona Courage says: "It was lovely to meet Kevin - he was very interested in all aspects of Mass Observation, asking lots of questions about the collections, who used them and what it was like to work here. He seemed to be very passionate about the Life in a Day project, and it was interesting to be ’directed’ by him when they were shooting in the archives."

Filming took place in the Mass Observation stores, where Mr Macdonald was able to explore boxes containing ordinary people’s observations on everyday life in the 1930s and 1940s.

Fiona Courage adds: "Continuing in the tradition established by Mass Observation, I think that Life In A Day is a really exciting opportunity to inspire a potentially huge audience from around the world to recognise the significance of their own experiences and record this for posterity as part of history."

Mass Observation Archive has been the inspiration for many illustrious writers, including the novelists Margaret Drabble and Andrea Levy, the writer Simon Garfield (whose triology Our Hidden Lives was turned into a TV drama starring Richard Briers) and the writer and comedian Victoria Wood, who wrote and starred in the BAFTA award-winning drama Housewife, 49, based on the Mass Observation wartime diary of Nella Last.

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