To fashion something like a storyline from 80,000 submissions and 4500 hours of footage is an impressive feat in itself. Given the tight deadline – entries were to portray the day of July 24, 2010 and be sent in by July 31 – Ridley Scott and YouTube, the co-initiators of the Life in a Day project, must have been shocked at the sheer wealth of material they had to deal with.
But the resulting 95-minute film is a marvel, and not just for its technical prowess, for which editor Joe Walker deserves as much praise as the hundreds of filmmakers, amateurs and professionals whose films are featured in Life in a Day. It begins with a practically irresistible succession of people beginning their day: a newborn nursing at mommy’s breast, a drunk partier on a park bench, a woman explaining with great seriousness that between 3am and 4am, “the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest” and that at this time she hears disembodied voices calling her name.
Its highlight is a sequence cutting back and forth between an army wife, who looks like she’s no older than 16 and cries after skyping with her husband in Afghanistan, and an Afghan photographer visiting a Kabul gym where girls practice tae kwon do, saying that this is what makes him hopeful for his country. The overall effect is one of direct access to the people portrayed, even when they clearly are playing to the camera.
Life in a Day is aware of the fact that at any given moment, there is always someone crying, laughing, being born, dying in a catastrophe (July 24, 2010 happened to be the day of the Duisburg Love Parade disaster) or enjoying a wedding dance, while elegantly demonstrating that the human experience is tied together by the hope that people can be good, even if they often are not.
LIFE IN A DAY | Directed by Kevin Macdonald (UK 2011) Documentary. Opens June 9.