Reggae king Bob Marley had once said, “My life is for people. Possessions make you rich? I don’t have that type of richness. My richness is life, forever.”
Human life intrigues director Kevin Macdonald, visible in his biographical documentary Marley (2012) and the crowdsourced experiment Life in A Day (2010). “You can’t make up stories or characters you meet in real life, which is stranger than fiction. Fiction has a kind of simple escapism and most people are bored with it,” says the director on the phone from the UK.
It’s interesting that he would collaborate with the Gladiator (2000) and Martian (2015) director Ridley Scott – “who had never made a documentary before” – on a documentary. “Ridley (executive producer) has been very enthusiastic about the process and watches the edits,” says Macdonald, 52. The two are back together after 10 years, inviting entries for the sequel to Life in A Day. The 94-minute film had stitched 300 footages and inspired the making of, among others, India in A Day (2016), which had interesting anecdotes like how at a bus stand in Karwar, Karnataka, a cow comes every day to stop a particular bus from moving, which had killed her calf six months ago.
For the sequel, anybody can shoot and send in entries – from amateur filmmakers to grandparents who have never held a camera before. People need to film their day on July 25 and upload the footage on the website lifeinaday.youtube by August 2. The final footages received from world over will be sewed into a documentary, to be screened at Sundance Film Festival in January 2021.
In 2010, as part of their fifth birthday celebrations, YouTube had approached the duo to use the platform as a tool to make a movie. “It was an experiment, and since nobody had made a crowdsourced film before, we had no idea how we would do that. The film feels like a time capsule of that period,” adds Macdonald, who’s certain that this time the global film might be a “truly diverse” one, with greater proliferation of smartphones and large proportions of people having access to the internet. “Back then, more than 50 per cent contribution came from the US,” he adds.
The stories in the 2010 film, with over 16 million YouTube views, were simple: From a boy named Sasha’s first shave, to a man proposing by the lakeside, or a young man coming out to his grandmother on the phone that he’s gay, or someone coming to terms with losing a loved one.
“Compared to today, 2010 seems like an innocent, optimistic time,” says Macdonald, adding, “Covid-19 is making people anxious, in addition, there’s political chaos and confusion going on in the world, environmental, economic, other social impacts, people’s movements (in India against the NRC and CAA, Hong Kong protests, Black Lives Matter), etc.”
He hopes people will record the issues that are serious to them as well as basic, quotidian activities. “The point is,” he says, “what’s important in their lives? Someone’s death or the little things that families do that says something about their lives. We have 90 minutes to paint a picture of the world.” The filmmaker wants a window into your life and for you to keep it simple: going to office, connecting with family or going to the market. “I want to see the colours, sounds, a montage of people shopping for food, for instance. To answer four questions: what do you love, what do you fear, what do you have in your pocket/bag, and, what do you want to change,” he says, adding, “open up and be honest, show us your reality, not a perfect curated imagery you’d put up on social media”. Though, in making a “historical document” of these times of social distancing, the filmmakers, who “were planning to make the film before anyone had even heard of Covid-19”, hope that “not all people will be in masks, especially at homes, or in the countryside, where they can, hopefully, move about freely”.
The filming requirements, such as having an establishing shot, not shooting children without permission, not using music or breaking any law, are listed on the website lifeinaday.youtube. The image quality is, however, not as important as the content’s authenticity and sound recording. “Working with sound later is harder, try not to have drill, grinder, motorway or construction noise in the background. Send as much or as little footage, but send raw, don’t edit.” He and his team of 30 assistants “will make everything look good”.
And, Macdonald assures “there won’t be any intentional censorship but a subconscious one” because, he says, “I’m a captive of my own experiences and background.” The film will be representative of diverse people and cultures, but not for the heck of it. It will depend on which characters or stories are the most interesting. “A filmmaker’s taste is a kind of censorship and, I think, I have a good taste,” he guffaws.
While political opinions and points of view in life are okay, neither he nor his financers would let any hate speech get into the film. From India, he wants to see, for instance, simple family stories, of the poor in rural areas to the rich in nightclubs. The beauty in the everyday and emotions – could be positive or negative. To see “how we are very similar no matter where we are from, no matter the cultural and national differences between us,” he says.
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