Sunday, 12 June 2011

Review of 'Life in a Day' (Kevin Macdonald, 2011)

Synopsis: A day in the life of the planet Earth and the human race; this is the 24th of July, 2010 as recorded by anyone with a video camera.

Democracy. Power to the people. Digital technology. Video cameras, the internet, editing software and music. Life in a Day is a unique, ambitious experiment. And boy does it work! A call went out from director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) and executive producer Ridley Scott to the YouTube community. Capture your life in a day. Anyone with a video camera and access to the internet could enter and submit a video of what was happening in their life on the 24th July 2010. Cameras were even sent out to far-flung places to allow people who do not have access to these filmmaking tools to contribute to the film. So is this a documentary, an experimental film or a social action media production? Well it’s all three and more. It’s also a narrativised piece of thrilling, enjoyable and inspirational cinema that will leave audiences crying, smiling and feeling blessed for their own lives and loved ones.

The narrative is not forced; the film begins in the early hours of the morning and takes the audience through the day to midnight. Characters occasionally reappear throughout the day and others come and go in the blink of an eye. The ordinary, everyday lives of the people of the planet are given an epic quality by the capturing of the full moon and many time lapse shots of changing landscapes and in one brief sequence the beauty of the northern lights. People rise early; people have stayed up all night drinking and one man howls and barks at the moon. The film then has many montages, people taking a morning leak, eating breakfast, taking their first steps out of bed in the morning. The soundtrack adds to the feel of the ordinary becoming extraordinary and the editing emphasizes the universal ways that people go about their days. It might sound boring but it’s not. The pace is swift with moments of humour, sadness and plentiful details that will strike a chord with many an audience member.

People play themselves and I say ‘play themselves’ because there are moments when the camera set ups draw attention to the constructedness of the scenarios. For example the montage of people waking up in the morning is rather let down by the people who have clearly set up the camera on the tripod and then pretended to wake up in front of it. Much more ‘real’ feeling are the moments of people filming their partners as they sleep and capturing true moments of awakening. There is also a notable emphasis on children which seems to tie in to a major theme of the film. Children are filmed by their parents (from sonograms to babies to a young man’s first shave) and in fact this is one of the first moments of the film when it settles on a character for more than a brief moment. The pride and love these parents feel shines through with the following of their children and cannot fail to put a smile on your face.

The task of editing 4500 hours down to just over 90 minutes must have been a monumental task and it’s a wonder that the film has been released in just under a year from the date that all the filming was done and uploaded. The editor, Joe Walker and the researchers must have sifted through countless hours of crap and should be applauded for their selections and for managing to also keep the film to a concise 90 minutes. I imagine there are also numerous moments that were fought over and eventually ended up unceremoniously dumped on the cutting room floor.

Life in a Day is thought-provoking and life-affirming. Though no message is forced down the audiences throat, there are many ideas presented here that should be thought about and discussed for hours after watching. The global origins of the footage, the various languages spoken, the colours, sounds and sights of people of varying cultures brought together in one film emphasizes the similarities between the people of the planet. The footage of rituals, customs, and celebrations from around the world show that love and loss are universal, that family is universally important to all cultures. Juxtaposing an Afghan photographer with an American soldier’s partner or a grinning Lamborghini owner with a shoe shining child suggests a political agenda but again, no message is forced. The viewer decides what to make of what they are seeing. There are some horrific moments; the tragic outcome of the German Love Parade, the killing of a cow, but these are contextualized in a positive film that does not dwell on the sadness of life but focuses more on the joy.
At just over 90 minutes the film does not outstay its welcome and I dare to suggest that a sequel would be worthwhile in a few years time. Life in a Day is a time capsule and a treasure trove of the ordinary. Through skilful editing, beautiful and emotive music and the desire for the people of this planet to share themselves honestly and openly with others, Life in a Day becomes more than a film, more than a documentary and more than an experiment. The ordinary becomes extraordinary and the film becomes a gift, a statement and a powerful dedication to love, family and unity. Watch it and embrace it.