You could call this a 'hip-hopera', a mix of filmmaking and social work, or a shot in the arm for British independent cinema. Just don't call it Bugsy Malone with real bullets.
Sporting equal measures of guts and integrity, 1 Day is the latest project from writer-director Penny Woolcock, whose critically acclaimed CV encompasses everything from guerrilla-style films ('Macbeth On The Estate') to full-blown operatic adaptations (John Adams' controversial 'The Death Of Klinghoffer').
Those recalling the halcyon days of Channel 4 might also recall Woolcock's remarkable 'Tina Goes Shopping' from 1999, along with its follow-up, 'Tina Takes A Break'. Featuring lines like "Why is there a cow's head in the sink?!" and scenes in which a drug addict steals from his lover's handbag during a rowdy sex session, these bleakly funny dramas, shot on the most deprived estates in Leeds, make playwrite Jim Cartwright's 'Road' look like a teatime sitcom in comparison.
One of the factors that gives the pair of Tinas and their belated threequel Mischief Night a genuine edge over other 'urban' films is Woolcock's regular insistence on casting from the street ("no experience necessary!" as her fliers say) - sourcing her cast from local residents, and uncovering some real natural talent in the process. (Some of whom, like Tina's Kelli Hollis, have even gone on to star in things like 'Shameless.') It certainly proves there's more to community workshopping than just a bunch of hippies staging puppet shows about tolerance.
For 1 Day, Woolcock immersed herself in the Jamaican community in Birmingham, where she'd made 'Macbeth On The Estate' during the 1990s. "People scoot from London to Manchester or Glasgow and there's this big vibrant city in between that's completely ignored," she says. Then again, "I could have researched and shot this film in any town or city in the country, including 300 yards from where I live in London." As is often the case, the story behind the making of 1 Day sounds as intriguing as the film itself. Local rappers and musicians were sought out, then recalled for acting auditions. Lyrics were constructed around beats supplied by local producers, and a story based on real events organically emerged: a vivid, uncompromising saga of gangland warfare and drug dealing with "a clear moral message" states Woolcock, in which street hustler Flash (Dylan Duffus) desperately attempts to secure the money he owes his gang boss within 24 hours. On his tail is a rival gang, the cops, three bickering baby mothers - and Flash's churchgoing granny, played by the marvellous Monica Ffrench. Rather depressingly, it all ends up with a mass shoot-out in a Happy Shopper car park.
Superficially, comparisons might be drawn with another classic from the Channel 4 vaults, the documentary 'Feltham Sings' (2002), with whom 1 Day shares a producer in Amy Flanagan. Here, the poet Simon Armitage supplied young inmates with autobiographically-tailored lyrics to songs ranging from bearable to magnificent ("Your mum says she'll visit, and suddenly she'll can't/so you're sat for an hour in the corner like a caahnt"). In one instance, however, Armitage didn't have a say in things: Cass Galton's 'This Is Me' rap remains a high point of the show.
The difference here, of course, is that 1 Day's lyrics are entirely the rappers' own work. Due to the everyday syntax and rhythms of hip-hop and grime, it makes for a uniquely naturalistic musical, one featuring strikingly authentic and heartfelt performances from those with friends residing in the local graveyard.
Ironically, West Midlands police informed the crew that the area's crime rate had actually fallen during the filming, as everyone was so engrossed in the production; although this hasn't prevented Odeon and Vue cinemas in Birmingham from dropping it in the week of release, following, they say, discussions with the police. For their part, local police strongly deny any such conversations ever took place.
A treatment for a prequel to 1 Day called 'The Death Of El Presidente' has been prepared, along with 'Nobody Sleeps', a romance between a rapper and a soprano. Woolcock says she is "cautiously hopeful about making them both".