Christmas in a Day follows on from Life in a Day, both YouTube collages assembled by the Oscar award-winning director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, Marley, Last King of Scotland). The full 48 minute film is now available to watch online, and contains many heart-warming vignettes. The footage is compiled by means of crowdsourcing and celebrates the entirety of Christmas 2012 across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. The producers were Scott Free, headed by Ridley Scott, and the project was sponsored by Sainsburys supermarket. The technical term for it is a “user-generated feature.”
It’s an unusual combination of factors coming together to make a documentary, and one that has raised the question, could this be the future for filmmaking? There’s no need for a crew. Out there in cyberspace all the stories are already told; is it simply a form of fishing, to put in a net and drag them all in? Life in a Day also demonstrated that the project can have a much longer life of its own with the repeated viewings that go on on YouTube. Eight million people saw it. The main job to be done is the editing. There were 360 hours of material submitted.
Although sponsored by a food retailer and released in snippets as ads, there is no branding in here and no pandering to an overtly sentimental ideal. This again makes it a curiosity, and may lead to a whole new way of looking at how to sell goods. A warning cautions against the partial nudity (the birth scene) and the killing of a goose for one family’s feast.(Not without a few tears.) For a supermarket intent on selling as much poultry as possible over the festive season, this in interesting, and quite brave.
Christmas in a Day certainly proves that regular, everyday folk are quite capable of capturing their own mini-dramas, be they happy, sad, or all shades in between. It swoops from the very young to the very old, there is a baby being born in a birthing pool, and there is Doris being feted on her 106th birthday. Her advice for a long and happy life? “Trust in the Lord and keep your bowels open.” The general mood is genial, cheerful and uncomplicated. The Christmas spirit shimmers throughout, softening the edges of the more glum segments; a father without his children, hotel workers of non-Christian faith desperate to find a bar open, a man who has timed his lunch on a spreadsheet to be ready bang on the dot, who then sits to eat it, all alone.
However, without the sense of any structural underpinning, or real direction, the film is ultimately more amateur than auteur. Compositionally, it is clever, and there are some reflections and reprisals, but the mode is essentially mainstream and “mumsy.” It is safe, pleasant and pictorial. The old three act formula is adhered to in that it builds anticipatorily into the morning (stockings, delight, disappointment), peaks at lunch ( one mathematically challenged lady maniacally recalculating the turkey cooking time) and winds down into a cosy and soporific satisfaction.
One story strand which stands out for a lot of viewers is the pale, haunted face of Will, a teenager who was in Harefield Hospital on December 25th, awaiting a possible heart transplant. His grandfather, 90-year-old war veteran pilot, Bill, encouragingly insists that all he wants for Christmas is for Will to get better.
In a happy ending, which has not been constructed from a scriptwriter’s imagination but from life itself, a donor was found for Will, and he had his operation on New Year’s Eve 2012. He is now back at Bristol University and looking forward, just as his granddad hoped, to being home for Christmas with his family.
“The best thing we could have hoped for is to be together,” Will’s Mum has said. She was shocked, when she watched the screening, at how very ill Will looked a year ago. She had blocked it out of her consciousness. She said the family had wanted to appear to draw attention to the drastic need for organ donations, and to show that “none of us know what is ahead.” Her son, otherwise fit and healthy, was diagnosed with a form of cardiomyopathy in 2009. Last year, when Will was filmed wired up to life support, none of them knew what the outcome might be.
This joyful happenstance is symbolic of the charm of Christmas in a Day. It refuses to be cynical or to sneer. There’s a lot of the best we can be, and the best we can hope for, in here. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and Kevin Macdonald has given us all a gift with this potent reminder of that.”We have time to contemplate life and be with those we love.” That’s Christmas in a Day, or Christmas in a nutshell.
Watch and enjoy, but please do heed the warning:
By Kate Henderson