Earth Day is this Sunday, and audiences in more than 160 countries across the globe will gather to screen director Kyle Ruddick's new documentary, One Day on Earth, which was shot in every country of the world on the same day.
It is considered one of the most audacious documentary film projects ever shot. Think Koyaanisqatsi on an even grander scale -- and with loftier goals -- and you'll begin to understand what One Day on Earth is all about. The 104-minute film will make its debut on Sunday on screens around the world, including at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. It is a visual poem starring everyone on Earth. It's about you and me, the times we live in, and our place in the puzzle of humanity.
Ruddick and executive producer Brandon Litman are the two young forces behind One Day on Earth. Filmed entirely on Oct. 10, 2010, One Day on Earth involved 3,000 hours of footage in 70 languages from 19,000 volunteer filmmakers around the world. The grassroots filmmakers painstakingly captured the beauty and tragedy of the human experience, ranging from scenes of women giving birth to a high-profile North Korean military parade to extreme poverty in India.
The two men met 10 years ago at the University of Southern California, where Ruddick studied film and Litman majored in business. Although both had worked on short-length commercial and broadcast projects, they had never attempted anything like One Day on Earth -- their first feature-length film -- and neither had any other documentarian.
It shifted gears in our lives, said Ruddick, 33, a ponytailed surfer from Los Angeles who started the One Day on Earth project in 2008. Litman, 30, who is a New York-born social entrepreneur, joined the team about a year later after a trip back to Los Angeles.
A producer friend of mine told me 'If you had known better, you wouldn't have done this,' recalled Ruddick.
It was a steep learning curve, added Litman. It's a massive project, and people thought it was impossible. The cool thing about it was we got to redefine some expectations and borders of what is possible.
The two worked on the project from their basement office in Santa Monica, Calif. They came up with the idea for the film in 2008 at a world music festival. The musicians' initial attempts to create music together were awkward, and it was clear that they had never collaborated prior to this moment, Ruddick said on the documentary's website. Eventually, though, over the period of a couple [of] minutes, what was disharmony became harmony, and a beautiful fusion of music came together for the first time.
'Cycle Of Life Mixed With Carpe Diem'
One thread the filmmakers explored is the relationship between the empirical data and statistics. However, crafting the final project required listening to and reflecting upon the crowd-sourced material.
The editorial process was a process of discovery, said Ruddick. You couldn't make this sort of film without being completely open to what you receive.
Common themes arose organically, and the filmmakers structured the documentary around vignettes that underscore larger global issues. A sense of communal experience further grounded the wide-ranging film.
The world is a vast spectacle that we indulge and love and also struggle through, said Ruddick. We're born, we're young, we dance, we sing, and despite all of that we have incredible challenges. We grow old, we die, but we have an opportunity to live our days to the fullest.
Ruddick described One Day on Earth as a cycle of life mixed with carpe diem.
A Fashionable New Genre
One Day on Earth comes at a time when we as members of society are fascinated with the idea of creating a global portrait or a time capsule of our lives.
Although Ruddick and Litman began their film project first, veteran Hollywood filmmaker Ridley Scott beat them with a finished film called Life in a Day. Scott's crowd-sourced film was shown at last year's Sundance Film Festival. Sponsored by YouTube and distributed by National Geographic Films, it also purported to capture the story of a single day on earth.
Ruddick and Litman received technological support from YouTube competitor Vimeo. They acknowledged comparisons between the two films are inevitable.
Initially, we were stunned by 'Life in a Day', confessed Ruddick. But, once we saw it, we realized we had a different thing going. Aday.org just further proves that people are excited about coming together across the world to create something.
The Swedish organization Aday.org has asked people across the globe to pick up a camera on May 15 and participate in the world's largest and most comprehensive photographic documentation of a single day in human history.
As fashionable as the idea may be, all of these projects invoke a sort of giddy narcissism -- a need to reaffirm just how alike we are despite our outward differences. Ruddick and Litman describe it as a movement, one of interconnectivity that was, until recently, next to impossible.
People get excited about it, said Litman. We get excited about it.
In some ways, I think we are part of a genre now, added Ruddick.
But is it really possible to capture the totality of the globe in a day? Is it even imaginable that someone could encapsulate the true essence of humanity simply by placing cameras in every country?
We never positioned ourselves as getting every story out there, explained Litman. That's what makes the job that we have so exciting because there will always be more. We have an accessible archive beyond the film and we will continue to add to that archive, but we are not operating under the pretense that we've gotten every story. That thirst to get more is what keeps us so excited and tuned in.
Building A Community
The community created around the project is what separates One Day on Earth from similar films. They've partnered with more than 60 nonprofit organizations, including the United Nations Development Program, in part, to stand out from the pack. The U.N. -- described by Litman as incredibly open to the creative community -- offered support by rallying its field offices around the globe to contribute materials. That helped the young filmmakers find ground support in each nation where the documentary was shot.
The One Day on Earth website acts as a global video map of geotagged clips. It boasts nearly 16,000 members from around the globe and functions as its own social network, tying everyone together. It also offers free digital education toolkits.
This is not just a film we wanted to do and move on with our lives, said Litman. This is a community that we collaborate with beyond this film.
Although initial filming on One Day on Earth began on Oct. 10, 2010, Ruddick and Litman also collected nearly 4,000 hours of footage on Nov. 11, 2011. They plan to collect additional footage on Dec. 12, 2012. These one-day events have become the flagpoles of their larger mission.
Cinema is this universal language that anyone can understand and relate to, Ruddick said. It goes beyond borders.
Ruddick said while he was reviewing footage from 2011, he was profoundly struck by how much that footage as well as scenes shot in 2010 felt like their times.
You can see it in the videos, he said. A lot changed in just one year. What's even wilder is that we unexpectedly had certain characters reappear. Some were in dismal places in 2010, and have made incredible changes in 2011. It kind of reminds you of the 'Up Series.'
The Up Series is a string of documentary films shot beginning in 1964 that followed the lives of 14 British children who came from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. The first installment -- Seven Up -- was directed by Paul Almond, and all the others have been directed by Michael Apted. Every seven years, Apted films new footage of the participants, documenting how their lives have changed. The latest installment, 56 Up, will make its debut in May.
Time Capsule Art
In one of the more touching moments from the global screening trailer of One Day on Earth, a man looks into the camera and says, I want to thank you for recording this story of my life and replaying it for others. He says he hopes the viewer may find a lesson in it.
His words tap into greater truths about this time capsule art -- about how the drive to understand others often derives from a more personal need to understand ourselves.
That's certainly how the world felt back in 1955 when Edward Steichen's Family of Man debuted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This early attempt to document the collective human experience -- an exhibit of 508 photos by 273 photographers in 68 countries that were selected from nearly 2 million submissions -- captivated audiences around the globe as it toured nearly 40 countries. It reached more than 9 million people and was widely regarded as the most successful exhibition in the history of photography.
A statement Steichen made about the intent of his project reveals striking similarities to his 21st century counterparts:
We are seeking photographs covering the gamut of human relations, particularly the hard-to-find photographs of the everydayness in the relationships of man to himself, to his family, to the community, and to the world we live in. Our field is from babies to philosophers, from the kindergarten to the university, from the child's homemade toys to scientific research, from tribal councils of primitive peoples to the councils of the United Nations. We are interested in lovers and marriage and childbearing, in the family unit with its joys, trials, and tribulations, its deep-rooted devotions and its antagonisms. We want to show the selflessness of mother love and the sense of security she gives to her children and to the home she creates with all its magnificence, heartaches, and exaltations, and the guiding hand of the father toward his son. There can be special emphasis on children, as the universality of man is not only accepted but taken for granted among children. We are concerned with the individual family unit as it exists all over the world and its reactions to the beginnings of life and following through to death and burial ...
It could be argued that One Day on Earth, Life in a Day, and Aday.org -- each coming against the backdrop of the recent financial crisis that has torn so many lives apart -- are modern-day attempts at helping us to find a certain connectedness to make sense of it all.
The idea's resurgence is likely related to reality-TV culture, where watching the intimate details of strangers' lives now seems rather normal. By reappropriating that trend, the humanitarians have found a way to morph unlikely protagonists into heroes of a global narrative -- a way to make cell-phone-wielding kids videographers, and documentarians archivists.
Perhaps in searching for a deeper understanding of life, we've reached the point where it's plausible to fathom opuses starring everyone on earth.
One Day on Earth comes out April 22 (Earth Day) and will make its debut at screenings in more than 160 countries, including at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Click here for a full list of screening locations. You can view the global screening trailer below.