Film Reviews

Sundance Review: Life in a Day 2020

The ultimate coronavirus supercut

A still from Life in a Day 2020 by Kevin Macdonald, an official selection of the Special Events section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Life in a Day 2020
(UK, 90 min.)
Dir. Kevin Macdonald
Programme: Premieres

Kevin Macdonald offers the ultimate COVID-19 supercut with Life in a Day 2020. This follow-up to his 2010 crowd-sourced doc Life in a Day reuses the original’s premise for the age of coronavirus. The doc draws upon over 300,000 videos that were submitted by users worldwide. They answered the call to share videos documenting their experiences on July 25, 2020. Life in a Day 2020 might be the most global portrait of the age of COVID to date as it collects snippets from all corners of the world. However, it’s also the slightest COVID film yet, which is perhaps inevitable by the nature of its design.

There is so much footage that most videos appear for mere fleeting seconds. Macdonald and his team of editors should be commended for finding so many parallel images and creating so many match cuts from a hodge podge of footage. The doc creates an image of a waking day from sunrise to late evening as people around the world rise, brush their teeth, and go about their business. It’s a slick collage.

Few of videos are especially memorable, though, in part due to the sheer volume of material. Only four scenes prove especially striking: in one, a young Black woman in America recalls how two of her brothers died in police custody on separate occasions. This snippet is a telling and relevant snapshot of the events and concerns of 2020. Another scene sees a mother film footage of her son’s appearance in the original Life in a Day and then, spoiler alert, turn the camera to an urn containing his ashes. She breaks down as she informs viewers that he died from COVID. One man reports from his car—his new home—and explains how the events of COVID changed his life in an instant. (Further proof that Nomadland is the film of and for the moment.)

Surprisingly few of the snippets address the pandemic directly though—or just fly across the screen too quickly to register. They instead mostly portray the challenges of daily life. This facet appears most strikingly in two longer clips played in succession: one in which a man proposes to his girlfriend, who declines, and another of a couple that decides to break-up while cooking dinner. These candid moments are surprising choices that remind audiences how life doesn’t always have happy endings.

The rest of Life in a Day 2020 mostly careens through footage in thematic chapters. There’s a bit about labour, randomly followed by a bunch of clips depicting death. There are births and weddings. People play music, and a few seconds of material captures environmental disasters and the Black Lives Matter protests. Some choices are especially curious, particularly the extended amount of time Life in a Day 2020 affords to an anti-masker Trump supporter. The effort to provide balance is well-intentioned, but also a reminder that such a platform could be better served by elevating the many voices advocating for change amid the feature-length montage.

Life in a Day 2020 doesn’t entirely capture the madness of the tumultuous year, nor does it provide much opportunity to make sense of a period that altered so many lives. What it offers, however, is a feel-good reassurance that we’re all in this together and that, somehow, life goes on. Inspiring, if overly simplistic.

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