King for a Day

King for a Day

60 minute documentary (completed 2022)

by Barbara Santi


Distributed by DER.


King for a Day is a poetic archive-led documentary immersing us in the personal story of the people of Padstow, their ancient rituals and the challenges they face in a rapidly changing world. Tensions between tradition and progress punctuate the importance of cultural identity and the relevance of folk customs in our globalised society. King for a Day is an intimate portrait of a place and community pushed to the margins. A cinematic journey interweaving audio-visual archive spanning 150 years. Will this be the last generation to tease the 'Old Oss' from her stable to welcome the Summer?

King for a Day is the inspirational story of indigenous Britain following a marginalized community at the heart of one of Europe's oldest folk customs, told through the narratives and archives of its people. A personal insight into a community in transition – Padstow's "sexy, savage springtime rite", known as the Obby Oss, is an ancient, ritualistic celebration welcoming the summer on May 1st. Filmed over nine years in the shadow of Brexit, the documentary reveals how the tradition acts as a form of community defiance and a vehicle for the Padstow people to have a voice. For the first time, we see the significance of May Day through local eyes.

King for a Day is a story about friendship, hope, celebration and unity.

Supported by Sheffield Doc Fest Fast Track to Features, selected for the Specials Board, and selected to pitch at BFI Documentary Film Fund pitch (2014).

Funded by Heritage Lottery, Arts Council England, UK Film Council, Feast Cornwall, and Cultivator Cornwall.

Festivals: Celtic Media Festival 2023 (Nominated Documentary Feature Screen), Heritales International Heritage Festival (2022), Berlin Art Film Festival (2022), Wales International Film Festival (Finalist, 2022).



Director/Producer/DOP/Editor - Barbara Santi

Executive Produced - awen productions

Composer - Jamie Mills

Additional music - the people of Padstow

Aerial and additional photography - Jake Potter

Audio mix - Richard Butler

Colourist - Annette Brown

Editing consultant - Jane Val Baker

Archive - Alan Lomax, Peter Kennedy, George Pickow, SWFTA, Malcolm McCarthy, Doc Rowe Collection, people of Padstow.


Review by William Fowler, Curator of Artists' Moving Image, BFI National Archive and the co-founder and co-programmer of The Flipside at BFI Southbank.

King for a Day is a simultaneously poetic yet lucid examination of the power of the Oss Oss Mayday ritual to the people of Padstow and the tensions its holds for them through multiple generations and the changes Cornwall has seen for decades now, in the wake of industrial decline and the rise of tourism and second homes which push locals out of the areas in which this and other important aspects of home and community making find their place.

Barbara Santi has woven something very potent together, using a huge range of archival material and distinctly candid interviews, drawing out multiple elements to the custom and its custodians, and the wider issues. Evidently trusted implicitly by the people of Padstow (who receive joint credit for the film), Santi has made a film which adds further layers to the ongoing collaging of history which takes place with folk rituals while making something that distinctly resonates now. The film progresses and takes uninspected twists and turns, being unafraid to hint at the tensions between the Blue Ribbon party and the Old Oss party while giving significant space to both and probably busting some myths in the process. That the tradition should itself be connected to and part of conflict (more here with understandings of Cornish history, which one interviewee say is not taught) feels apt and a welcome repost to the frozen ways in which folk customs and discussed, often divorcing them from the times in which they are made. One suspects there is more underbelly to the various tensions and relationships here but they are signalled and the interviews are frequently astonishing, managing to connect with something universal.

Although not stated, this is a film about Barbara Santi's relationship with these people too. The film signals the need for wider, overdue conversations about what we truly value in the face of the relentless onslaught of capitalism. In many ways, the film returns the Oss Oss custom to the terms in which folk traditions have historically been understood: as a dynamic, multi-layered act of identity confirmation but also as a political act, where, for a brief moment, the tables are turned - sometimes literally.


61 minutes
Barbara Santi
Barbara Santi