Sundance: 'Life in a Day,' filmed entirely by YouTube users, makes a splash
“This is not like any other film you’ve seen before,” director Kevin Macdonad (Touching the Void) promised while introducing his new documentary Life in a Day. Actually, it’s very much in the tradition of Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi in that the movie crisscrosses around the globe, depicting the varying landscapes and customs of the world while striving to highlight this planet’s interconnectedness. What makes Life in a Day special, though, is how it was created. YouTube approached Macdonald and executive producer Ridley Scott with the idea of having the site’s users submit their own footage during the course of a single day. The filmmakers selected July 24, during which YouTube users from 192 countries shot a total of more than 5,000 hours of footage. All that digital video was then edited down to a 90-minute snapshot of what life was like during those particular 24 hours.
Initially, Life in a Day seems to be tracing mankind’s daily routine, as images of people waking up, washing their faces, and heading out into the world are slickly edited together (by Joe Walker) to create the picture of one global community. But the documentary soon expands its parameters to include all sorts of human experiences. Little ordinary moments — like a 15-year-old boy shaving his face for the first time, a Balinese woman preparing rice offerings to Vishnu, or an Afghan news photographer showing off his two beloved cameras — are juxtaposed to create a vivid cinematic tapestry. “Sometimes the banal details can be the most telling, and the most familiar and touching to view,” said Macdonald during a Q&A at Thursday’s premiere. And Life in a Day is a motion picture crammed with details, each offering a different slice of what it is to be alive in the 21st century.
If that description makes the film sound like a mushy, feel-good, isn’t-the-world-wonderful time capsule, well, Macdonald was worried about that too. “The danger of this film was that it would feel like a Coca-Cola commercial,” said the director. “To begin with, we didn’t call it a film. We called it an experiment, because with an experiment you can fail.” But Macdonald and his team didn’t fail, if the prolonged applause at the Eccles Theatre was any indication. During the Q&A, 25 of the film’s 390 “directors” joined Macdonald onstage. The contributors had arrived in Sundance from a myriad of countries, including Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
National Geographic will release Life in a Day in theaters on July 24 — exactly one year after the film’s footage was shot. Also, the movie’s Sundance premiere was streamed live on YouTube: Did anyone out there happen to catch it?