Friday, January 28, 2011

Life in a Day

Life in a Day
seen online via YouTube

In the summer of 1995, I was working as a camp counselor in the woods of western Massachusetts, and we created a time capsule. It was a tradition at this camp; every ten years they throw a bunch of items from the campers and staff into a container and bury it somewhere on the camp grounds, to be opened ten years hence. I contributed some comics I had made. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the campers of 2005 made of my comics or anything else in our time capsule, but I like to think that it interested someone.

The concept of a legacy - leaving something behind for future generations that indicates one's time on this earth - is a powerful one. We like to think that our lives matter in some way, even if, in the cosmic scheme of things, they're nothing more than the blink of an eye - but the average person hardly ever thinks in such terms. For artistic people - and I use the word "artistic" in the broadest possible sense - this concept is especially strong, because the hope is that one's work will outlive themselves.

Life in a Day is this concept taken to a macro scale. It's a remarkable enterprise undertaken by Kevin MacDonald, director of The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, among other films, and Ridley & Tony Scott. Last year, they partnered with YouTube and invited amateur filmmakers worldwide to record their life as it was lived on July 24, 2010. The result was over 80,000 clips from almost 200 countries, edited into a single narrative.

And it does play like a narrative, which surprised me. It begins with footage from late at night, moving into sunrises, people getting out of bed, making breakfast, and going about their day, and so on into sunsets and night footage again. There is no political rhetoric, or commercial pitches or religious sermonizing, just people going about their lives, some of them aware of the camera, others not. For some, the day was a significant one, but for most it's simply another day. There's a lovely original score throughout the film as well. You can read more about the process behind the film in this interview with MacDonald.

Yes, the movie shows how much we all have in common and it unites humanity in a beautiful mosaic and blah blah blah. But it took MacDonald, and his editor Joe Walker, to sift through all of those videos and find those common threads, and arrange them in a compelling manner. It bears repeating: this is not a collection of home movies; this is a fully-realized film, with a narrative structure. I think it's safe to say that nothing of this scale has ever been done before.

Will Life in a Day stand the test of time? It's far too early to tell... but if there were those who took part hoping for a shot at immortality, they could do a lot worse than this.

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