Sundance 2011: 'Life in a Day' -- a snapshot of humanity via YouTube
A crowd of curious filmgoers filled the Eccles Theater on Thursday night seeking the answer to that question, when "Life in a Day" premiered -- and was streamed live on the Internet. (No rebroadcasts of the film are available in the U.S. However, National Geographic will release the film in theaters this summer.)
On July 24, amateur filmmakers and social media fiends around the world were asked to record a day in their lives and upload the footage to YouTube. Director Kevin Macdonald, who won an Oscar for the 1999 documentary "One Day in September" and whose next project is the Roman drama "The Eagle" starring Channing Tatum, somehow put together a 90-minute film from 80,000 video submissions that totaled more than 5,000 hours of footage.
The result is much more than just socially awkward kids talking confessional-style to their webcams (though one of the filmmakers did admit after the screening that "teenagers whining in their bedrooms" made up the majority of the submissions). On the contrary, many of the subjects employed their friends or family members to tape them for a day instead of filming themselves. The movie begins at sunrise on July 24, and Macdonald uses the plethora of nature scenery that was sent in -- shots of the sun rising or a full moon -- to give the movie a time element. It's astounding how many of the same mundane acts people decided to share: waking up, brushing their teeth, making a pot of coffee, even sitting on the toliet. They talk about the same things, too: love, their fears, loneliness.
But the audience seemed to respond most to the movie when it broke out of the collage-like scenes and instead spent a few minutes focusing on individual stories. There was a young Peruvian boy who worked as a shoeshiner on the street; a man worrying about how to confess his feelings to his girlfriend; a married couple with a young boy trying to understand his mother's battle with cancer. These folks were just some of the two dozen participants who were flown out from locales as varied as Egypt, Indonesia and Dubai for the film's premiere --and they all took the stage afterward for the question-and-answer session, seeming to relish their momentary fame.
Bob Liginski Jr., who filmed the vignette about his wife's cancer, said at a Main Street party after the screening that the Park City experience had been such a thrill that he was dreading returning to his job in Chicago as a corporate videographer.
Liginski had been casually recording his family around the home when he heard about the "Life in a Day" project, and his wife agreed to be filmed for it -- even though only a day prior, she had returned home from the hospital after a double masectomy and reconstructive surgery.
"Everyone's been asking me, 'Aren't you freaking out? It's so personal,' " he said, referring to the graphic footage of his wife and her scars. "We just didn't want to sugarcoat anything."
Another raw moment in the movie occurs when 27-year-old David Jacqubs comes out to his 90-year-old grandmother, telling her he has a boyfriend. Jacqubs, who has a partnership with YouTube and goes by the alias 'Davey Wavey' online, said he hoped the honesty of the project would make viewers take the videos on the site more seriously.
"It's not just funny videos of cats getting stuck in fans," he laughed. "The value of this movie is that it's showing off the good stuff on YouTube, and showing that it can compete with 'real' movies."
--Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah
Photo: Cathy Liginski and Bob Linginski Jr. with son Bobby at the premiere of "Life in a Day." Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press