Hollywood's first experiment with cloud moviemaking – a picture that's the collaborative product of thousands of Internet users – has been made and broadcast, and it wasn't at all bad.
The film is called Life in a Day and was an experiment put together by YouTube, the Sundance Film Festival and its two Hollywood "directors" (who really just selected and edited other people's films), Kevin Macdonald and Ridley Scott.
The film premiered at Sundance and on YouTube last weekend and will be released next summer. You can't see the whole film until then, but you can see many of the submitted samples for it from around the world – which will give you an idea of its texture – at youtube.com/user/lifeinaday.
The idea was this: A call went out to YouTube users last May to take a video camera and record your day on Saturday, July 24, 2010. Participants were encouraged to submit not just daily activities but also grand events that happened to take place on that day (the producers hoped for weddings, for example, and as it was a Saturday in July, they got them). The producers received 80,000 videos, 4,500 hours to watch. They chose an hour-and-a-half worth and then set it to (somewhat grandiose) music.
The resulting documentary is impressively international, even if wealthy countries where people tend to own more expensive video cameras (particularly the United States) are overrepresented. (The quality of video is almost uniformly crisp, meaning that high-end cameras were required.)
The show starts before dawn, with fishermen somewhere in South Asia lighting lamps for their bleary breakfast, along with their working kids. There are a few other colourful glimpses of workaday lives in non-industrialized countries – a long scene of African women pounding grain and singing the most gorgeous harmonies is particularly beautiful – but the bulk of the film is urban and suburban, with a few amusing monologues by American blogger types.
This rapid mix is extremely compelling and watchable: If you're ever bored with a subject, a new one will pop up in a minute and a half.
The movie is reminiscent of – indeed, derivative of – Godfrey Reggio's wordless time-lapse globoscapes of the eighties and nineties, the Qatsi trilogy, and the imitators that followed ( Baraka, Chronos). But where Reggio's great strength was his frenetic, repetitive musical soundtrack – he introduced Philip Glass to the world – the mushy orchestral score is the greatest weakness of Macdonald and Scott's collage. (When will Hollywood realize that we don't always need the heaviest of emotional underlining for sad or poignant scenes?)
One segment is particularly chilling: July 24, 2010, happened to be the date of the massive electronic-dance-music festival in Germany called the Love Parade, happening in a city called Duisburg. There were a lot of video cameras there. The tone shifts from festive to tense to despairing as the crowds get funnelled into a tunnel without an exit. Twenty-one people are crushed to death and 500 injured. It's disorienting to see such a horrible disaster framed by the giggly weddings and smiling-baby moments that surround it. It's just a blip in the world's life that day. This contrast is grimly encapsulated by one scene from the end of that long techno nightmare: A raver dances happily a couple of metres away from paramedics performing CPR on one of the non-breathing.
In short, Life in a Day is inspiring. It is an example of how global artistic resources can be harnessed free to make something majestic that would otherwise cost tens of millions of dollars to research and plan and film.
Scott, in a promotional interview about the film, uses the experiment as a platform for some inspiring advice, too: Don't be afraid of making films, he says to everyone in the world with a video camera. He insists that personal experience is going to create the most exciting art.
"There's no excuse," he says. "You have a digital camera, go out and shoot your film. Seriously. If you want to be a filmmaker, nothing should put you off. Just do it."
Which I think does apply to all artistic creation. And that idea of freedom, that encouragement to be rid of performance anxiety, is promoted by communitarian projects such as these.