Life in a Day | Film reviews, news & interviews
Life in a Day
A global project yields an interesting film and an addictive YouTube channel
A teenage boy howls casually at the full moon; elephants in a river take a midnight dip, glossy with water and moonlight; a drunk on a park bench can’t hold back the laughter as he listens to an iPod. What were you doing on 24 July, 2010? It’s a question that executive producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin MacDonald, with the mighty aid of YouTube, asked people across the globe. Demanding footage of everything from the daily rituals of eating, washing and travelling to moments of heightened or unusual significance, the film-makers’ only stipulation was that the material be filmed within a single day – a documentary snapshot of life on Earth.
The result of their appeal (and of some 400 video cameras distributed to the developing world) was more than 80,000 clips from 192 countries in any of 21 different languages: 4,500 hours of raw, homemade footage united solely by the experience of being human. Viewed, tagged and categorised by a team of volunteers, the material was allowed to dictate its own narrative, as MacDonald searched for the patterns and correlations that offered paths through the jungle of information, for those individual stories that signposted the universals of the human condition.
The results are unexpected and predictable, diverse and studded with repetition. Turns out that loss, love, parents and children, celebrations and rites of passage look really rather alike, whether they take place in urban Peru, the Ukrainian mountains or a major American city. Who knew?
Among the montage of moments and glances some more substantial stories emerge, characters who offer us the development this kind of project can lack. We meet a Korean man cycling across the world (nine years, six major accidents) determined to create a symbol powerful enough to unite North and South Korea, a family in Chicago dealing with cancer and a Peruvian shoeshine boy little bigger than his equipment who is more man than child. Major events also play their role; we find ourselves amongst the crowds of the Love Parade in Duisburg that killed 21 people, dancing with the DayGlo revellers and then caught in the stampede, and witness the war in Afghanistan from within and without.
Guiding participants were a few questions: what do you love? What do you fear? What is in your pocket? While pockets yielded everything from a rosary, money and pills to a fat and placid rat, fears were even more exotic, encompassing ghosts and global warming, Allah, hair loss and homosexuality.
In a task such as this it is perhaps the editor who carries the greatest burden of responsibility. Joe Walker (Hunger, Brighton Rock) has a touch that is light and rhythmically informed by his work as a composer. Deftly ordering and trimming his material (and occasionally, as in the case of a pompous American man and his put-upon wife, painfully refusing to trim), Walker tempers some of MacDonald’s cruder juxtapositions, which do tend toward the “we’re all one happy global village” philosophy, seasoned with just enough Disney angst (think Bambi’s mother or Simba’s father) to bring out their sweetness.
With little to structure proceedings aside from a loosely chronological progression from midnight to midnight, the soundtrack becomes all-important. While Matthew Herbert’s rhythmic riffs grow organically out of the onscreen action, creating aural echoes to the visual patterning, Harry Gregson-Williams’s more symphonic efforts jarred, imposing tone and frame on stories whose value was supposed to be in their unmediated directness.
Without belittling the achievement of MacDonald’s film, what is perhaps most extraordinary and exciting about this project are its leftovers. Visit the Life in a Day YouTube channel and you can see the cinematic road not taken, the film not made, in the thousands of clips that have been uploaded there. Away from the audited, edited and ordered confines of a coherent documentary film, it is specificity rather than universality that dominates, unbuckling the connections MacDonald laboriously establishes and drifting freely from episode to episode. It’s anarchic, unmediated and wildly varied – an experience that lacks the sheen of the film and is rather the better for it.
- Visit the Life in a Day YouTube channel
Watch the trailer for Life in a Day
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