I've been talking about Life In A Day--the film from producer Ridley Scott, director Kevin Macdonald, and thousands of amateur cinematographers from YouTube--since it was announced last summer. It was hard to avoid getting excited about something so unusual and daring, and I remained curious about how the finished product would turn out right up until I was able to finally see it. The film premiered on Thursday at the Sundance Film Festival, and also streamed live on YouTube at the same time. I'm glad I made time in my schedule to sit down and watch it, because it turned out to be a compelling film indeed.
Life In A Day does exactly what it set out to do: document human existence around the globe.The film is touching, disturbing, uplifting, and more. It plays on the similarities and differences between our cultures--there are montages of the mundane (shaving or cooking) and the unique (the human tower from the film's trailer or a man bicycling around the world). The end message? That we are all different, yet all the same. That we all have aspirations, regrets, responsibilities, and wishes.
It succeeds not in spite of its footage having come from amateurs, but because of it. Had Hollywood directors scripted and filmed these segments, they would have lost all trace of their real-ness... their humanity. The final clip, for example, concerns a young woman who has spent the day waiting for an amazing event she could film. But nothing exciting happened, and she's rather upset about it. The moment is just raw, and real, and her disappointment is something all of us can relate to.
And of course, that was the point of the whole thing, wasn't it?
The entire experiment began with the notion that YouTube users could, in many ways, do a better job of capturing humanity on film than the entertainment industry. And it was definitely an experiment. As director Kevin Macdonald said:
"We called it an experiment because with an experiment you can fail. When we started to realize the film worked, we stopped calling it an experiment."
See... Macdonald didn't have any better clue than you and I did how this thing would work out. In my original article after the film was announced, I said the film's success--critical or otherwise--would hinge entirely on the footage volunteered by the YouTube community:
"There is simply no telling what kind of footage this project will yield. It could end up being poignant and beautiful. Or it could be the most boring thing ever put to film. But either way, you kind of have to admire the sheer creative guts behind this thing."
You also have to admire the finished product. The film is better than I could have predicted. It's so good and so surprising, it will not be known as "the YouTube movie." It's totally worth the price of admission once it hits theaters in July. When all is said and done, Life In A Day will stand alongside all the other great documentaries in your Netflix queue.
It took both the outstanding work of thousands of amateur filmmakers and the vision of director Kevin Macdonald to make this into something more than an experiment. And that makes the film a unique accomplishment. Instead of becoming only a flashy gimmick, Life In A Day might just put crowdsourced-filmmaking on the map.