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Life in a Day: Sundance Review

Life in a Day
Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

The Bottom Line

This amazing compilation of videos all shot the same day around the globe is one for the ages.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival, Premieres

Director

Kevin Macdonald

 

Director Kevin Macdonald and director Joe Walker assemble footage from everyday life for cheerful look at the world.

PARK CITY -- (Premieres) A lot happened on July 24, 2010, but little of it made news other than the 21 tragic deaths during a stampede at the Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany. Life in a Day rectifies this.

A giraffe was born, a cow was slaughtered, babies came into the world, weddings took place, a gay man in New York worked up the courage to call his grandmother to tell her about his lifestyle, a Moscow daredevil stole food, and a dignified Afghan man expressed concerns that he might not return home safely.

Life in a Day is an experimental project driven by the Internet at its best, where connectivity among the planet's population has become a reality.

A collaboration between YouTube and Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free production company, the film was assembled from footage submitted to YouTube from camerapeople in 192 countries, all shot on that Saturday last year. Director Kevin Macdonald, the Oscar-winning documentarian who made the 2006 feature The Last King of Scotland, and editor Joe Walker (Hunger) combed through some 4,500 hours of video to produce the 95-minute film.

The world got to see the pic Jan. 28 when its premiere here at Sundance was streamed live around the world along with a Q&A with the filmmakers and 24 contributors onstage at the Eccles Theatre.

The contributors, from Tokyo and Dubai to Arequipa, Peru and Urbana, Ill., were stunned at how their contributions fit into this global snapshot. So was the audience at the Eccles and, no doubt, those in front of computer screens everywhere.

The fact that terrible news didn't dominate the world that day allows the film to concentrate on everyday life. So the film is quite cheerful on the whole. Whether people are skydiving or walking down a chapel aisle with an Elvis impersonator, the film expresses a collective hope in the present and in better days to come.

On stage, Macdonald and Walker insisted that this mood came about through no editorial nudging by them. The preponderance of the videos submitted was playful, optimistic and positive. Do you suppose our 24/7 news media has gotten this wrong, that much of the world isn't in the grip of depression, malevolence, cynicism, backstabbing and pessimism?

The day starts at midnight, with a full moon seen from different perspectives around the globe. It moves on from the bodily functions associated with rising to greet a new day, from shaving, brushing teeth and, yes, evacuating the bowels, to work and play. Breakfast is served, later lunch and dinner, of course, as people go about the ordinary and extraordinary.

Some things are staged for the camera. That Moscow thief engages in a series of acrobatic stunts, hurtling fences and bouncing off rooftops as if he were auditioning to be a Hollywood stuntman. In the Ukraine, a real-life location manager who always wanted to make moves trains his camera on farmers herding goats and sheep across a wind-swept landscape that John Ford would envy.

An Indian gardener in Dubai explains his life and contentment as he is able to send ample money to his family back home while he lives in a simple room amid absurd opulence.

The most arresting character, one a clever documentarian might follow up with, is a Korean bicyclist who was in his 10th year of bicycling around the globe. Finding himself in Katmandu, Nepal, he explains his surprising feat is connected to a burning desire to see the Koreas reunited in his lifetime.

YouTube asked its many volunteers to answer personal questions such as "What's in your pocket?" or "What do you love?" The former produces everything from knives and guns to the keys to a Lamborghini. The latter elicits answers involving a cat, food, family, a refrigerator and women in general. A South Asian wife, no doubt with an arranged marriage, responds to a query about whether she loves her husband with a simple, "Yes, you have to."

The Love Parade tragedy does make it into the day's footage as does a street riot somewhere in the world. An American family battles cancer. The most disturbing footage, however, is that Afghan man answering the question, "What do you fear?" Leaving home is his reply.

Music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert, along with some overlapping sounds, beautifully weaves together the footage that Walker has culled from cinema's most massive assemblage of raw material.

The film ends brilliantly with a young American woman rushing to meet the midnight deadline and realizing that nothing happened in her day, which somehow makes her feel lonely and disconnected from a world of amazing events. But as the preceding 90-some minutes illustrate, what happened that day, and indeed every day, is life.

The film itself lacks any onscreen indication of where or whom you're looking at. Eventually, a three-hour DVD version will have a bonus feature that will offer precise locations. Macdonald said putting datelines on the movie version proved too distracting in watching the film.

YouTube Rentals are now available only in the U.S. but the company will offer Life in a Day free on YouTube around the world. National Geographic is set to distribute the film domestically, perhaps right around the one-year anniversary of the film's worldwide shoot.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres (National Geographic)
Production: Scott Free/YouTube
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producer: Liza Marshall
Executive producers: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams, Matthew Herbert
Editor: Joe Walker
No rating, 95 minutes