It's early morning in Dubai. A humble Indian immigrant worker from Kerala is tending the lawn of a lavish mansion. He speaks about enjoying his job and being able to send money home, as he shows you his very modest living arrangements. However, more evident is his lack of choice in what he does. At the same time in Japan, a man coaxes his young son out of slumber, promising him the reward of watching TV. They are in a tiny apartment that looks ravaged by neglect. Just as you begin to wonder why they live like this, the man sets his camera next to a shrine to his late wife, asking his son to "say hello to mummy." You see the missing piece of their life and it all makes sense. Such moments of heartwarming human vulnerability make up Life in a Day, a unique cinematic experience presented by YouTube and roughly 80,000 contributors from around the world.
Life in a Day is the result of a social media experiment that invited people all around the world to shoot their life on one specific day, July 24, 2010. What you see is a funny, heartbreaking and enlightening film that unexpectedly and endearingly connects you to complete strangers around the world. This is user-generated, democratic filmmaking at its core.
The film has plenty of big names behind it, an odd collaboration of minds and motives. Launched by YouTube and distributed by National Geographic, the film is produced by brothers Tony and Ridley Scott, directed by Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland) and most importantly edited, the 4,500-hour behemoth of raw footage that it originally was, by Joe Walker. The clips are spliced into a loose and rather predictable structure of a day going from dawn to dusk, but along the way you discover surprising overlaps between people from starkly different terrains and environments.
In the neatly packaged 90-minute final cut of the film, MacDonald and Walker fill the day by crisscrossing the world through a wide range of moments shared by the contributors. You join a father proudly recording his teenage son's first shave, then are transported to a street vendor in India preparing cups of steaming tea, followed by a tragic scene of violence unintentionally captured, moving swiftly to an old couple renewing their wedding vows in a playful ceremony. The connections waver between tenuous to revelationary, allowing not only these people to converse with one another through the recordings of their day, but also to show the viewer just how common some of our fundamental beliefs and attitudes can be across linguistic and political borders.
The call for videos, when it went out last year, had very loose themes. Contributors were asked to share what's in their pockets, what they love the most and their greatest fears. The results, as you would expect, are equal parts fascinating and quirky. Chosen from hundreds of video submissions just from India, for example, you meet a young man who hilariously shares his love for his refrigerator. Little girls, in different languages, are quite vocal about their fear of monsters and ghosts, while others show the bizarre and sometimes controversial contents of their pockets.
Life in a Day doesn't ever fall prey to becoming gimmicky, as such global projects might often be perceived. Instead, the film is a reminder of how our cultural and societal differences around the globe are inevitably balanced by the many common emotions, behaviors and thoughts that make us whole. The people we meet through the film are disarming. By showing these glimpses into their lives, no matter how mundane or profound they are, Life in a Day leaves you with this strange yet accomplished feeling of having just met, perhaps even befriended, hundreds of new people.
Life in a Day is showing in select theaters from July 29. For more information and to request a screening, visit the film's official website. To explore the thousands of videos by theme or country, visit the YouTube page for the film.