No doubt, Life in a Day will be shorthanded as "the YouTube movie," which is not a bad thing, actually.
Directed (assembled, to be more accurate) by Kevin McDonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland), Life in a Day is the finished product of an open call by YouTube for its users to individually create videos that exemplified a single day of their lives: July 24, 2010. Not a notable day in world history - just a mid-summer Saturday when anyone with a video camera of any sort could shoot some footage about their world.
In fact, more than 70,000 hours was submitted literally from around the globe - and McDonald sent 400 cameras to the developing world, where 20-30 percent of the film was shot. Then it was up to McDonald, producers Tony and Ridley Scott and their editors to select the best (they winnowed it down to 4,500 hours of footage) and glean 90 coherent minutes to create a user-generated feature documentary. (Not the first such venture, to be sure: Remember Awesome! I Fuckin' Shot That!?)
There are several amazing things about Life in a Day, the first being just how emotionally involving it can be. In the course of the 90 minutes, we meet what feel like hundreds of people - and there are a handful who we see more than once. There's a cancer patient, post-surgery, going through her day at home with her husband and young son. There's a guy from Korea who's riding his bike around the world and is spending this particular day in Nepal. There are a group of goatherders in what appears to be one of the Balkan states.
The film follows a linear day, starting at midnight and working its way through sunrise on through the day until midnight brings on July 25.
So there are images of people rising for the day, eating breakfast, doing their jobs, pausing for lunch, finishing their work day, having dinner and heading out into the evening. It's fascinating to find the common threads, the way a certain number of people had the same idea and photographed it: images of walking, eating, bathing, using the bathroom, giving birth. McDonald finds ways to make these montages both striking and entertaining, for their sameness and their differences.
There are enough other events that have a universality that they earn their own spot in the film: women giving birth, babies being played with and making discoveries, people in their cars, getting married, in the water.
And there is the list of questions that YouTube suggested as topics for would-be videographers: What do you have in your pocket? What do you love? What is your most valued possession? The answers are revealing and heartbreaking.
To be sure, this isn't a glad-handing effort. There are segments on poverty and its effects, including one of the recurring characters, a 9-year-old shoeshine boy in Latin America. Asked about valuables, one man basically says that he has nothing, then adds, "But we are alive."
And that, finally, may be the most important message of Life in a Day: that we are all alive together on the same planet, no matter how different our worlds may seem. It's a simple idea yet a crucial one, perhaps the most crucial in terms of how we conduct our daily lives.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.