Reality Bites

Reality Bites explores the rich, surprisingly diverse history of the British documentary, from its roots in the brief ‘actuality’ films of the Victorian period to the cutting-edge digital productions of today.

Reality bites in many different ways… These films cover subjects from racism to royalty, deal with topics as varied as industry and war, leisure and political protest. They were made for many purposes – for entertainment, public information, propaganda or even for educational use in classrooms. In style they embrace everything from drama-documentary to television journalism, avant-garde experimentation, even musicals! Some are right wing, some left wing, some are – or claim to be – apolitical. They include famous masterpieces, alongside obscure examples of the many directions documentary has taken.

Challenging your preconceptions of what ‘documentary’ is, this collection will grow over the next year. The selection is based on the films included in 100 British Documentaries – part of the BFI Screen Guides series of acclaimed viewing guides to cinema and television. 100 British Documentaries contains detailed analysis of all of the films included in Reality Bites, together with an introduction and comments from filmmakers.

Ten to try

Today We Live: A Film of Life in Britain (1937)

Impassioned socialist view of Depression-era Britain.

Children Learning By Experience (1947)

Margaret Thomson’s observational study of Britain’s post-war nippers.

A Portrait of Ga (1952)

“My mother lives in the windy Orkney Islands…” An early film by the artist Margaret Tait.

March to Aldermaston (1959)

A milestone in campaigning documentary and the history of the CND.

Morning in the Streets (1959)

A Northern English ‘Everytown’ comes to life in this impressionistic BBC classic.

A Wedding on Saturday (1964)

A bustling Yorkshire mining village prepares to celebrate in this early experiment in shooting on videotape.

Two Victorian Girls (Yesterday’s Witness) (1970)

Two members of pioneering female typing pools recall life in the 1890s.

Heart of the Angel (Forty Minutes) (1989)

Molly Dineen follows two chaotic days and a long night behind the scenes at Angel tube station.

The Complainers (Cutting Edge) (1997)

British consumers get their revenge in this ‘docusoap’ lesson in the art of moaning.

McLibel (Storyville) (2005)

A David and Goliath tale of not-so-happy meals.

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