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Life in a Day

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John Cooper and Claiborne Smith

Hitting Theatres
by John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival

It’s been almost seven months since I shared the stage in Park City, Utah, with Kevin Macdonald and the international filmmakers from the Life in a Day project. We had just created a kind of history: not only were we premiering a user-generated film to the Sundance audiences, we were simultaneously streaming it live to a global audience and taking their responses for a Q&A from Twitter and Facebook.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year now since we first started working with YouTube and Scott Free on the concept for this unique premiere at our Festival.

When it began, I said openly that it scared us at first (and it did). It was tough to know at that time that over 80,000 submissions would be turned into one unforgettable and moving film. Kevin and his creative team have done a remarkable job, and we are proud to have been a small part of all this.

Now, Life in a Day is hitting theatres near you. I encourage you to take your friends and family and watch it together. It’s a movie that sparks the best in us through the reflection we see in it of ourselves. It memorialized one special spin of the sun around our world.


Eccles Plays Host to Life in a Day Premiere
by Claiborne Smith. Originally published January 28, 2011.

The numbers behind Life in a Day are impressive: shot in a single day by non-professionals invited by YouTube and the Festival to submit footage of what one day in their lives (July 24, 2010) entailed, the 90-minute documentary was culled from 80,000 submissions that totaled more than 4,500 hours of footage. People living in 192 countries sent in their footage, at 60 different frame rates; it took the editors a few months in London just to sift through all the footage.

Those numbers, though mind-boggling, don’t reveal the film’s humanity, implicit in the notion that you can invite amateur filmmakers from across the globe to talk about themselves and end up with an engrossing film. In addition to premiering at the Eccles Theatre last night, Life in a Day and the Q&A that followed the film were streamed live on official Festival sponsor YouTube’s site to viewers around the globe.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott were attached to the project from its beginning, but Macdonald confessed at the premiere that he and the other professional filmmakers who worked on Life in a Day weren’t at all certain what kind of footage they would receive, or what to call the film. “We didn’t always call it a film,” he explained. “We called it an experiment, because in an experiment, you can fail.”

Life in a Day is composed of the beautiful little moments of life whose recollection we often neglect because they seem so routine – a striking, full moon; a woman in Bali making the elaborate daily offering to her gods; people fishing quietly for their food. But the film also offers a kind of cultural tourism, a rare opportunity to see into the lives of people across the globe, via unassuming, revealing footage that’s both personal and anthropological. Sitting on stage with the film’s editors and some 20 contributors from Peru, Russia, Bali, Ukraine, and other nations, Macdonald said that Life in a Day is “a personification of what film is about.” In other words, it reveals “basically that cultural differences are pretty skin deep.”

Last night, Sundance Institute was busy reaching out not only to global audiences via the Life in a Day screening but to indie film lovers across America who couldn’t make it to Utah for the Festival. Sundance Film Festival U.S.A. – an opportunity for indie film lovers to see films from the 2011 Festival in their hometowns, while the Festival is still happening – took place last night at screenings in theatres in nine American cities.

Whether filmgoers were at the Eccles Theatre watching Life in a Day, seeing it stream live on YouTube, or at one of the theatres participating in Sundance Film Festival U.S.A., they were part of Sundance Institute’s new horizon.

“What is really at our heart at Sundance Institute has always been a place for nurturing artists,” Festival Director John Cooper said at the premiere last night. But the Institute has refocused its attention on bridging the gap between the artist and audience. “Having this incredible amount of work that we see at this Festival find an audience” is a vital aspect of the Institute’s mission. Making it as easy as possible for indie film lovers to actually be able to see crucial, new indie film wherever they may be is something the Institute is working very hard at achieving, so that, as Cooper put it last night, “the independent film world reigns supreme and films are seen around the globe.”


Check out the trailer for Life in a Day, or click here to watch John Cooper talk about this historic documentary.

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

In Memoriam: Diane Weyermann (1955–2021)

A singular force within the documentary film world with a global reach, Diane Weyermann passed away at age 66 after battling cancer. Over the course of her 30-year career as a funder and an executive, her work elevated the documentary form and expanded its cultural impact.

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