The film that launched 80,000 stars

On July 24th last year, a filmmaker asked anyone with a camera to spend a few moments recording their day. Thousands did and now the results are released as a film.

What were you doing on July 24th, 2010? If you're struggling to remember, then filmmaker Kevin Macdonald might be able to help you.

He asked people from all around the world to film what they were doing that day and speak about their hopes and fears. Over 80,000 did just that, in 192 countries, leaving Macdonald 4,500 hours of footage to work with.

'My aim was to create a whole movie from intimate moments,' he says,' – the extraordinary, the mundane, the preposterous – and thereby take the temperature of the planet on a single day, 24 July.'

What came back was a rich variety of experiences, each a small but telling window on life on planet Earth. There was heart-rending singing from Angola; ghostly footage of elephants bathing by moonlight; intimate records of family life in the shadow of cancer; humorous tales of travel around Kabul and beautiful shots of a family living on a boat on the Nile. 'All human life (and quite a lot of death) was there,' says Macdonald.

How was the vast amount of material handled? The film's editor Joe Walker explains: 'In the time schedule we had, which was basically only a few months from start to finish, no one person could possibly see all that material.

So the best thing we could do was set up an office with 24 researchers. Each of them was a very accomplished filmmaker, or somebody with some documentary or drama background.'

The team sifted through the videos, whittling them down to 200 hours of the best submissions. A one-to-five star system was developed, although a special six-star rating was reserved for 'so bad it's good' material.

'This usually meant boys showing off embarrassing dance routines in front of their mirrors,' says Macdonald, 'or the clip we christened 'the naked Korean milk-spilling organist''.

One concern when planning the project was that they'd just end up with lots of footage from media-savvy westerners. To ensure it was truly representative, the filmmakers spent £40,000 on 400 cameras.

They sent these cameras to parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America where they were distributed through aid agencies and other outlets to people in some of the remotest parts of the world.

One person's story

Comprised of hundreds of short clips, Life in a Day isn't a normal film with script and lead character. But Kevin Macdonald believes it almost becomes that.

'I keep saying that it's like one person's story,' he says, 'It's almost telling the story of the world as one person, but one person who keeps mutating in form.'

You Decide

  1. With no story line and no star names, is this a film you want to watch?
  2. 'I keep saying that it's one person's story', says the director Kevin Macdonald. What do you think he means?

Activities

  1. In a group, choose a day and make your own 'Life in a Day'. Each of you brings a story, an incident – funny, tragic, sad, weird. Weave the different experiences – and hopefully they'll be very different – into something with a beginning, middle and end. Backing music? Narrator?
  2. See the film. Score it. Review it.

Some People Say...

“You can't make art out of home movies.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why July 24th?
They knew they had to wait until after the World Cup and they needed it finished by January. They chose a Saturday because people generally have more time at the weekend and as luck would have it, it also turned out to be a full moon.
Are all the clips fun?
No, some are very dark. As the film editor Joe Walker says: 'You are allowed in, for ten minutes, to somebody's head who has a peculiar view of the way things function. There are a few clips where you think this person needs help, not a camera.'
With no star names, what's the film's appeal?
We're all fascinated by how others live their lives and how they cope with hardship and triumph and this film gives us a truly global view.

Word Watch

Angola
A country in central-south Africa. One of the poorest countries in the world, it's still recovering from 27 years of civil war. But it's also one of Africa's major oil producers.
Kabul
Capital city of Afghanistan. 5,000 years old, this strategic location has been fought over by many world empires.
Nile
Generally regarded as the world's longest river, north-flowing Nile starts in Sudan, ends in Egypt and takes in seven countries along the way.
Media-savvy
Describes someone who understands how the news and arts media work. Those without access to newspapers or the internet – about 70% of the world's population – are at a disadvantage here.

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