Sundance Review: Life In a Day

By  · Published on January 27th, 2011

Want to feel insignificant? Stop reading this review and take a second to contemplate 6.8 billion. It’s an extraordinarily vast, staggering sum, almost unfathomable. And yet, throughout the world, every day, 6.8 billion people laugh and cry, love and fight, experiencing the joys and heartbreaks that are fundamental to life, as their own stories are written.

Last summer, YouTube put out a global call for user-generated submissions of home movies depicting life on July 24, 2010. Life in a Day, the resulting film (assembled by director Kevin MacDonald, with an assist from producer Ridley Scott), culled into an hour-and-a-half from 90,000 entrants, is an extended montage of select clips drawn from the submissions.

It’s an extraordinary cross-section of the global community, a project utterly without precedent. Featuring films from every continent, with content that ranges from the innocuous (a man riding an elevator) to the profound (a family confronts a devastating cancer diagnosis), Life in a Day is the defining work of the Web 2.0 era.

MacDonald shapes the extraordinary mass of material into a film conjoined by loose thematic strains, such as birth, trips to the bathroom and deeper questions like “what do you fear?” The submissions are enlivened through stock Scott Free stylistic techniques – i.e. extreme slow motion images of falling raindrops – amplified rhythmic sound design and other editing room flourishes.

On a micro level, the enterprise occasionally grows tedious. Your level of enthusiasm for, say, the quick cut segments centered on walking or motorized transportation will be directly tied to your overall affinity for people watching. More affecting are the mini-narratives that MacDonald follows for longer than a few seconds: a young Chicagoan on a first date, say, or a Korean man visiting Nepal on an around-the-world bike tour.

Yet, the film is, as MacDonald has called it, a “horizontal” project. It’s a snapshot, an amalgamation, of the experiences, hopes and dreams we all share. Above all, Life in a Day testifies to the remarkable, democratizing nature of cinema and the power of images seen and voices heard for the first time.

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