The gimmick to Kevin Macdonald’s worldwide snapshot of 24 hours has lost its novelty this deep into the social media age.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.)
A little over 10 years ago, Kevin Macdonald & Zillah Bowes directed a documentary fully comprised of footage that people across the world recorded over one day. That was July 24, 2010, and the documentary, Life in a Day, premiered that following January. On July 25 of last year, the same production method went into effect to create Life in a Day 2020. Of course, 2020 was a much different year. Hell, it’s still going on now, and some even turned it into a meme of a year. What a difference a decade makes.
The big shift here isn’t just the time. It’s the fact that the approach isn’t special at this point. We all know what 2020 was like because we all lived it, sure, but on top of that, the entire world documented it ad nauseum. There’s no reason to consolidate all of this into a movie. It doesn’t even quite feel like a movie at this point. This gimmick may have worked 10 years ago, but that’s because it was a specific time when people recorded a lot, not quite everything. The sliver of novelty is gone now.
Truthfully, it doesn’t even feel entirely like a movie. It feels like a bunch of vlogs strung together instead, and how is that much different than the medium that cinema and television are competing against? The structure is the same. At the very most, it’s impressive that Nse Asuquo, Sam Rice-Edwards, and Mdhamiri Á Nkemi edited this much footage into 90 minutes. Distilling that is quite the feat regardless of content or medium, but aside from that, there’s not much setting it apart.
This gimmick may have worked 10 years ago, but that’s because it was a specific time when people recorded a lot, not quite everything. The sliver of novelty is gone now.
Like in the original, we get a variety of people all over the world. There are some people working on farms, some celebrating birthdays. One guy spends the day trainspotting. There’s a difference between vérité and fluff, and the first 30 minutes are virtually nothing but the latter. Just fluff? In 2020? It’s crazy, right? One woman’s TV plays a news report about police brutality off-screen, and that’s it. The fact that Life in a Day 2020 spends so much time avoiding all the elephants in the room just adds to the whiff of insincerity.
And then, just what you were expecting but not waiting for: social tensions and coronavirus. Hordes of people convene at weddings, parties, and concerts without masks. One woman laments how two Black family members of hers died in police custody. One man complains about masks and protests. We later get some footage of protests, yet there’s no lyricism to how the film sifts through it all. For everything going on, it’s bizarre that the documentary feels so apolitical. It makes the disclaimer at the beginning about each person’s views being their own even more redundant.
Instead, one piece really sticks out. A woman records herself watching Life in a Day, which included a piece of her trying to wake up her son. When she turns the camera away from her TV and to her left, we see a memorial for him. He passed away toward the beginning of the pandemic due to COVID-19. It’s not like the entire film had to carry this tone; that’d be as untrue as it would be exploitative. It should have, on the other hand, at least had more variety. If modern technology happens to have rendered this type of movie obsolete, find something specific in the editing room. Stick to a perspective. Everyone else has one. Why can’t this thing have its own?
Life in a Day 2020 played in the Special Screenings category of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and will be released by YouTube on February 6, 2021.
Life in a Day 2020 Trailer: