Life in a Day

The You Tube Collab gets the Hollywood treatment in a project just announced. Oscar winning filmmakers Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald have joined forces with You Tube and the Sundance Institute for a “historic global experiment to create a user-generated feature shot in a single day.” Through a multi-versioned promo available in 20 languages they’re inviting You Tubers around the world to video on July 24th for “Life in a Day”, to create a portrait of 24 hours on earth. Macdonald will cut selected contributions into a feature documentary which will premiere at the Sundance Festival and on You Tube in January 2011.

As well as working with existing You Tubers, the team behind “Life in a Day” are responding to the unevenness of digital inclusion by, according to the Wall Street Journal article, “distributing 400 to 500 cameras to NGOs and non-profits in 20 different countries and areas “on the wrong side of the digital divide” so that as many voices as possible will have the opportunity to be heard.”

“Life in a Day” is the latest in a spate of ‘life on earth’ projects which have been shaped by the affordances of digital video and participation. These include Yann Arthus Bertrand’s epic 6 Billion Others for which he and his team travelled the world shooting over 5,000 interviews, Bob Geldof’s forthcoming Dictionary of Man, and the Global Lives project, the latter providing a particularly interesting contrast to “Life in a Day”.

The mission of “Global Lives” is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.” To do this the US producers recruited 500+ volunteers who have between them recorded 24 hours in the everyday life of ten individuals selected to “roughly represent the diversity of humanity” so that, for example, six of the ten are Asians, and six are under thirty. The ten twenty four hour films they have made have been combined to produce an immersive installation which ran from February to June this year at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and heads to Europe in July. An online library will follow.

While “Life in a Day” encourages You Tubers to be auteurs, offering a strong point of view, Global Lives producers worked to a format designed to suggest a lack of mediation, effacing the distance between the subject and the viewer. As the producers describe it, there is “no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life…we invite audiences to confer close attention onto other worlds, and simultaneously reflect upon their own.”

In Ridley Scott’s You Tube interview about “Life in a Day” he promotes taking part as a chance to become a filmmaker, like him – “if you want to do what I do, go out, get a camera, get some buddies…Just do it.” You Tubers whose footage is selected for the finished film will be credited as co-directors, and twenty of them will be flown to Utah to attend the Sundance Festival premiere. The project announcement has already provoked a buzz on the “Life in a Day” comments section, with mixed responses – people saying they plan to take part, and are thinking about what they’ll record, and others questioning Hollywood “cashing in” on user content, and asking what the chances really are getting selected. But with front page promotion on You Tube, and the potential reward of credit on a feature documentary, the team can expect a lot of submissions, and though only a tiny proportion can possibly make it into the final cut, all of them will be available to view on the “Life in a Day” Channel.

One of the more sceptical comments suggests that what Scott and Macdonald propose to create is in a sense what You Tube already provides everyday – a snapshot of the world via a kaleidoscope of videos perspectives. It’s a valid point. And as we can each navigate our own routes through that participatory content, search and view by theme, browse and encounter the unexpected, and make our own assessments of what we find, there are legitimate questions about whose perspective is served and what kind of value is added in turning that into a linear experience.  It will be interesting to see if “Life in a Day” presents any convincing answers.