According to British film director Kevin MacDonald his project Life in a Day was always intended to become a movie, but was called “an experiment” at first because, well, because it was. He and his editor Joe Walker had no idea whether they could pull it off, and so he hesitated to call it a film until they knew they could.
The “it” they pulled off is certainly a remarkable feat. It is the “life” of the whole world on one day, July 24 2010. Using the new facility for collecting videos afforded by You Tube, MacDonald threw out an invitation to anybody with video recording capabilities, no matter how modest, to film excerpts of their day, on that date, and to upload their short videos to the Life in a Day page on You Tube. They anticipated about 10,000 videos and actually ended up with 80,000 – some produced by a team of cameramen and camerawomen they sent out themselves to areas of the world where video cameras, You Tube, and uploading are not yet household words!
The “experiment” has become a 90 minute film now, and I was ‘invited’ to the world premiere showing of the movie last night. The fact that I was invited is due to yet another experimental aspect of this project. It was an open invitation to anyone and everyone who owns a computer to join a webcast on the night of the premiere, and my RSVP consisted of entering the right URL at the designated time! (The premiere itself was live at The Sundance Film Festival with a live link to a host of cinemas around the United States and simultaneously webcast via You Tube to the rest of us.)
The film is for the most part very watchable, taking us from a full-on shot of an almost-full moon just after midnight on July 24 2010 to a similar shot – from somewhere else in the world – just before the following midnight. It is a tapestry of individual and collective human experience that weaves its way between those two consecutive midnights. Through “the eyes” of many cameras we see the commonalities of daily life across diverse countries and cultures throughout the world, as well as catching sight of the unique “colour” that makes the tapestry of life Technicolor rather than monochrome.
There are some amazing scenes, filmed both by the professional videographers and the amateurs. Like scenes of Ukrainian goat herders. Like the young girl whose unique role enables her to really boast of being top of the heap. (See clip below). Like the gymnast whose idea of popping off to work is getting dressed and leaping from a second-floor window. (That would be “third-floor” for our American readers!) His “work” at the time was shoplifting from the local grocery shop, which comes as a bit of a surprise, although in an interview afterwards he suggested he was just illustrating an earlier phase in his life when he had no money.
The film’s producers made it clear that out of the tens of thousands of videos received, the vast majority were light not dark. However, many people will have had to close their eyes when confronted with the shots of how goats (non-Ukrainian!) and cattle are slaughtered for our food, and some might feel tempted to do the same when seeing a couple of close-ups of individuals undergoing medical procedures.
In an interview after the movie, Kevin MacDonald stressed he hadn’t wanted to make a ‘Coca Cola ad’ movie – à la “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony“. Yet he conceded that the success of the movie is the very fact that it does – encouragingly – show the similarities across the globe, and bring out a sense of how connected we all are.
On one level his “experiment” does indeed do exactly that, successfully. The movie’s main “characters” had been invited from all corners of the globe to the Sundance festival and the warmth that greeted them when they appeared on the stage was heartfelt and the questions aimed at them affectionate. This diverse crowd of people had been together at Sundance for two days and apparently had bonded in person as tightly as their disparate lives are knitted together on screen.
On another level, though, the movie faced an uphill struggle with which my colleagues and I – as media representatives of a movement devoted to a spirituality that heals – are familiar. How do you visually convey the deeper connectivity of individuals through Spirit, God, rather than just the materially tangible commonalities like sleeping, waking, washing, commuting, caring, fearing, and owning? The movie captures all the latter creatively, but it can only touch on the outer forms of religion, such as Muslims kneeling in prayer, a woman in Bali blessing her worldly goods, a Christian making a statement about those who are not saved. That is not even the tip of the iceberg of the spiritual lives of countless people across the globe.
That’s not to say that the film-makers have failed to do something they should have done. It is just to acknowledge that, as yet, the camera hasn’t been invented that can capture the source, rather than the evidence, of universal humanity’s connectivity. When a television producer wants to discuss how to film the healing prayer that is at the heart of Christian Science, for instance, we have to say that Christian Scientists don’t do “the laying on of hands” – very visual! We don’t do stadium healing meetings – very dramatic! Christian Scientists don’t even kneel in prayer. (At least not too often physically!). Healing treatment through spiritual means in Christian Science is just that – spiritual. It can be very dramatic to the individual if/when (a) they perceive God’s love in some whole new way and (b) are restored to health or wholeness. But both of these have happened to me numerous times without even my nearest and dearest knowing it has occurred, let alone the casual observer. So pity the poor producer trying to figure out how to record it on film…!
As Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy once put it “In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as “a very present help in trouble.” [Bolding added!] Yes, but where’s the camera angle on that?! How do you zoom in on the inner sanctum of individual communion with God?
It could be said that Life in a Day does end on a spiritual note, courtesy of a young American who had really wanted to contribute to the “experiment” but found herself alone in a car, just before midnight, having spent all day at work. Her mental journey from ‘loser’ for missing out on participation to an unconditional sense of her self-worth is a spiritual journey that most of us are required to take each day, and here it was captured on camera! And her videoed musings ended up as the movie’s finale and earned her an unsought reward of an all-expenses paid trip to Sundance. That is just the kind of positive outcome that I so often find does come from making that spiritual journey from listening to the voice that would have us put ourselves down to hearing the voice – the Bible calls it “the still, small voice” of God – that only wants to lift us up.
At the end of “Life in a Day” you certainly feel good to be human, and – unless you are really well-traveled – you have got a whole new grasp of the breadth and beauty of our common humanity. Which is all to the good. I would recommend that you go and see Life in a Day when it comes to a movie theatre near you in the summer.
Please note that the thousands of clips from which the movie is made up are all available on their You Tube channel, and here is a delightful sample of a clip that did make it into the movie: