i … shot that

Tomorrow marks Youtube’s “Life in a Day” project. People from over the world are encouraged to shoot video of their own lives (or whatever else moves them) and upload it; a team of filmmakers headed by director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) and executive producer Ridley Scott will sift through the entries, take the “most striking” footage, and create a feature-length film. The finished product will be screened at the Sundance Film Festival next year. Meanwhile all entries will be stored on a permanent archive-cum-time capsule on Youtube — as long as they don’t violate Youtube’s “community guidelines,” or come from Syrian, Burmese, Sudanese, Iranian, Cuban, or North Korean citizens. (I’m not sure why these six nations are thus singled out. They certainly aren’t the only nations with troubled or unjust regimes; nor the only ones to have difficult relationships with Youtube. For instance, the site is banned in Turkey but apparently Turks living abroad are welcome to take part.)

A mash-up collage of clips from punters everywhere telling the story of one day on Earth? Youtube is billing it as “unprecedented,” “historic,” and other gushing, hyperbolic things.

Click here for more information and instructions on how to take part.

I’m almost reluctant to admit this stunt has captured my attention just a little. Youtube calls it an “experimental documentary,” and I’ll be damned but the thought of it fascinates me. When I was a kid my family had a copy of A Day in the Life of America, a book of photographs taken all over the States on one day, and I used to love it. It was the first thing I thought of when I heard of Youtube’s project. (The other thing I thought of was, for some reason, Slacker.)

Really the whole thing is an ingenious brew of populism, corporate marketing, and independent filmmaking taken to its logical extreme. As a friend and colleague has already written, it’s like the Beastie Boys’ Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That on a fuckin’ global scale. Shoot film by any means necessary indeed. Or is it edit other people’s film by any means necessary? (Actually, if nothing else, this project is a great way for Youtube, Sundance, and the filmmakers to get a lot of publicity out of a film on almost no budget, the production done entirely by willing crews around the world for no pay.)

I have mixed feelings about taking part. I do like the idea — it seems fun; and it would be kind of cool to win the lottery so to speak and be featured in the finished product. Even being a part of that archive sounds pretty satisfying.

On the other hand the timing is weird for me. For a number of reasons I’ve been inspired, after a dormant period of many years, to make films lately. My wife brought her video camera to Abu Dhabi for the express purpose of getting some footage here so that we can do something, anything with it. And for the past couple of weeks I’ve been going around the city, taking snapshots, and brainstorming visual art. I’m especially drawn to the weird landscapes of the massive development projects seen everywhere here — the ripped-up desert, the cranes and other machinery, the exposed infrastructure and weird bits of rubble and colored plastic lying around.

So, I definitely have ideas forming. But I don’t know how I feel about pulling the trigger on those ideas tomorrow — going out and filming just because Youtube says so. Maybe I should abstain in protest, and film something the next day — just for me.

I’ll think about it tonight. If I do take part, here’s what I want to do. It occurs to me that the project, however well-meaning, cannot represent everyone. It’s true that the means of shooting video are cheaper and more accessible than ever, and in the hands of more people around the world than ever. And this has at times taken on great significance, as when the government of Burma was exposed by an covert network of citizens documenting police and military abuse with handheld video cams. (See the film Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country.) Youtube’s promo clip for the project makes a subtle but definite reference to this phenomenon: in the promo’s inevitable rapid-cut montage, you can spot a brief clip of some nondescript riot police.

But not everyone can afford a video camera, nor even a phone that shoots video. And not everyone has the leisure time to spend on filmmaking. I’m especially thinking of the thousands of migrant construction workers here in the UAE. These guys come over here from the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the Philippines to work six days a week in insane heat and often dangerous conditions for very little pay. They live in camps in the desert, ten or fifteen to a cheap and poorly ventilated hovel. Their labor is creating a science-fiction megalopolis in a desert where there was nothing before. We see the monstrous, sublime, ridiculous towers under construction everywhere we look; and we see these guys going to and fro in their beat-up buses with no AC, or walking along the roads languorously, dressed in color-coded coveralls, cloths tied around their heads to protect them from the sun. We see them in the evenings, sitting dirty and exhausted under palm trees on the median strips of the city streets, hanging out and chatting with what little free time they have. Have they heard of Youtube’s project? Have they heard of Youtube? Do any of them own a video camera? Or a computer? Have any of them ever thought about filmmaking?

I have no interest in documenting my own life in such a way, but I’d like to document them. Not in a pushy way — I wouldn’t want to film someone without permission or otherwise exploit them. But I’d like to find a way to somehow represent lives often taken for granted and certainly without an effective voice in the media.

If I don’t manage to get out and film these workers, anyone who reads this is welcome to do so. Steal this idea. Document these guys’ lives. By all means. By any means.

1 comment so far

  1. concerned filmmaker on

    I share many of your opinions and think you might be interested in a similar project that is working with the non-profit, educational, and humanitarian communities. They are working hard to capture the images that youtubers just will not seein their project.

    Check out “One Day on Earth”


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