Cinema verite is a style of documentary filmmaking which is usually characterized by its naturalistic style. It is, as its translation suggests, “truthful cinema”. Primarily telling the truth about life, cinema verite is often used in documentary filmmaking. While there have certainly been revolutionary films made in this style, such as Gimme Shelter, Hoop Dreams, and Woodstock, never has the scope of the style, or in documentary filmmaking in general, been so huge as Life in a Day. Culling together 80,000 entries and 4,500 hours of footage, this community made documentary is a stunning look at life.
All of the footage, submitted by YouTube users, depicts life in one day, July 24th, 2010. It seems interesting, albeit a rather simplistic concept. Large and daunting, but again, a bit simplistic. But Editor Joe Walker has taken these images and gave them power. I am sure that individually, they would have been fine and they each would have had their own meaning and what not, but together, they are harmonious and powerful.
It is interesting that instead of portraying the vast differences in our various environments and ideologies and even thoughts that the editors and overall style of the film took the approach to show the homogony. While the singular events that shape our lives are all different, generally, we do the same things. We all wake up in the morning (or don’t) and we all have breakfast of some sort and we all have some sort of routine.
The steady flow of images, so seamlessly edited, is one of the best parts of the film. The film never ceases to hold the viewer’s attention. This is less due to the scattershot and chaotic style of editing that’s permeated filmmaking since MTV first aired, but merely because the images are so interesting. They all have their own individualistic meaning, as well as a collective one. Comparing and contrasting shots that are obviously staged for aesthetic reason against those that are truly spontaneous and off the cuff is fun and interesting. One is reminded of Jean-Luc Godard’s revolutionary jump cuts in his debut Breathless. Not because they’re simply jump cuts, but because each splice is about the passing time of meaning and nothingness, as each fragmentary moment passes by.
As daunting as the task probably was, just putting the film together is nothing. Putting it together and actually creating memorable moments is something else. The intimacy one is able to perceive from many moments throughout the film is astounding. Throughout the film, not only does the audience get a slice of life from someone, but a real taste of their life. Touching moments filled with emotion. While these may seem maybe a little routine and mundane, they take on a new meaning in the film.
Life in a Day is an impressive feat for a documentary. The scope and scale is monumental. The film is packed with emotion and grabs your attention from the very start. Each story and each frame has meaning and its visually arresting style make it one of the best documentaries of the year.
Watch the full film here.