Life and death on YouTube


Life in a Day (PG). Director: Kevin Macdonald. 91 minutes

'Life-affirming' is one cliche I have never used in a film review. Yet in the case of Life In A Day — a documentary described in promotional material as a 'historic cinematic experiment' — life-affirming is not a cliche but a literal fact: the film explicitly affirms the innate value of human life.

Producers Tony and Ridley Scott effectively execute an intriguing concept. Members of the public were invited to film themselves over the course of a single day (the calander date 24 July 2010), and upload the footage to YouTube. This wealth of material (80,000 videos representing more than 4500 hours of footage) was then whittled down into a compelling 91 minutes.

As viewers, we traverse the globe in this short time. One of the film's great strengths is that, perhaps more than any other film to date, it reflects the ways in which the internet and social networking can bring human beings into communion regardless of geographically distance. It implicitly credits the online world as a physical space cohabited by many and varied individuals the world over.

For some of the subjects, the camera finds them on one of the best or most significant days of their life. A man proposes to his girlfriend. An elderly couple renew their marriage vows on their 50th wedding anniversary, with a few cheeky variations. A young gay man comes out to his grandmother over the telephone. An Australian man recovering from major surgery laughingly tells an anecdote about a nurse having to clean up his 'poop', then weeps as he speaks of how well he's been treated.

For others, it is one of the worst days. We see the nervous build-up to a teenager's confession of love to a close friend, and share his devastation when he is rejected. We visit a man whose wife is sick with cancer: asking their young son to behave for the camera, he insists, with some irony, that 'this is a happy film with a happy ending'. Amid their palpable tragedy there is transcendence, too: he reflects that since his biggest fear — the return of the cancer — has come true, he is now fearless.

It's astounding how quickly we are drawn into the characters' lives. Most stories get no more than a few minutes attention. But these glimpses are so frank and empathetic we feel instant attachment and emotional response.

For many of the subjects this is just an 'ordinary' day. But 'ordinary' days are not insignificant. One woman reflects that 'even though nothing great happened today', she can't help feeling as though something great did happen. That's the point of Life in a Day: that they're all great days.

As mantras go that sounds trite on paper, so it's a credit to the filmmakers that they communicate it with more profundity than sentimentality. The most mundane aspects of human reality seem here to be rendered mystical by the cinematic gaze. Harry Gregson-Williams' and Matthew Herbert 's music, and Joe Walker 's editing, deftly coordinate the pace, mood and thematic structure of the film.

In the end it's impossible not to feel inspired by all this ordinary and wondrous life. 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. He was a member of the TeleScope jury at Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, film review, Life In A Day, YouTube



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Existing comments

Is this going to be generally released or one of those blink and you'll miss it arthouse jobs? Sounds worth a look!

Annette | 01 September 2011  

Sounds like a great film. Looking forward to seeing it!

Nic | 01 September 2011  

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