I tend to be optimistic. When I hear about an exciting new documentary
in the works, I immediately think of the best of possibilities. And, not too
surprisingly, perhaps, the higher my expectations, the more I am

That’s what came to mind when I heard about a cool (careful, Soup Man)
documentary project announced by YouTube that sounds nothing short of
revolutionary (I’m telling you, gotta take it easy). The film, Life in
a Day
, is to be made in collaboration with
producer-director Ridley Scott and director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void), two directors I have a lot of faith in (I am so setting myself up for a fall!). They are asking people to submit videos from one day in their lives — July 24, 2010, — which they will then edit together to make a 24-hour snapshot of a day in the life of planet earth.

How awesome! How could it miss?

Macdonald has expressed some worry that he may either get too much or too little material, but
YouTube has hedged its bets by supplying cameras to some far-flung
places to insure that there will be a variety of experiences. They’ve also collaborated with Sundance, so the film is assured a screening at the 2011 festival — and 20 of the contributors will be selected to attend the festival.

Sounds cool, right? Talk about true multiple points-of-view, right?

Except, well, let’s keep in mind that similar power-to-the-people doc
projects have already missed the mark. Whether it’s the Beastie Boys
Awesome: I F****ing Shot That! or Jehane Noujaim‘s Pangea Day project,
these noble ventures tend to be great on paper — but they end up too
diffuse. They lack the narrative focus that a filmmaker with a single vision
can achieve. And it all starts feeling like a Coke or Levi’s commercial,
which is to say that the idea has been co-opted by the consumer culture
(be yourself, make your own movie… and buy our jeans!).

YouTube has been trumpeting Life in a Day as an “historic global
experiment” in a statement that manages to overhype and underwhelm at
the same time. After all, how much can one really expect from an “experiment”? It’s
a smart ploy. And it makes sense that YouTube — the video medium of the
masses — would be behind such a venture.

Still, I remain optimistic. I hope Macdonald can make something that
lives up to my expectations. Hey, maybe I’ll even submit some video from
my July 24th. Maybe you should too.

Published by

Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen