I’ve devoted the past 30 years of my life to giving people a taste of the breathtaking beauty and infinite diversity of this planet. As the president of a travel company, I’ve had the satisfaction of giving thousands of Americans an opportunity to do just that. So it was rather humbling when I learned last week that I’d been completely outdone by two ambitious young men with a crazy idea.
Four years ago, Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman embarked on a fantastically brazen project to create a feature-length film with footage shot in every nation on earth — all captured in a single day. Now absorb that for a moment. This would be the first-ever simultaneous filming event occurring in every country of the world. If it sounds like a project worthy of a filmmaker like James Cameron or Ridley Scott, consider this: Kyle and Brandon, two graduates of The University of Southern California, had no budget and had never made a film before.
And yet, somehow, they pulled it off. Last week, I had the opportunity to watch the result — the 105-minute documentary film “One Day on Earth“ shot entirely on Oct. 10, 2010. It was quite simply one of the most sweeping, stunning, inspiring pieces of cinema I’ve ever witnessed. So how did they do it? Crowdsourcing, of course.
Utilizing a social networking model, Kyle and Brandon mobilized thousands of filmmakers, students, and other inspired citizens across the planet to pick up a camera and document the world around them over the chosen 24-hour period. With some diplomatic help from the United Nations, they sent video cameras out to more than 95 U.N. country offices, including some of the most remote and impoverished corners of the earth, like South Sudan and Papua New Guinea. (The filmmakers all got to keep the donated cameras.) The result? More than 7,000 volunteer videographers in 190 countries contributed to the “One Day on Earth” project, submitting over 3,000 hours of footage in 70 languages.
There were no particular guidelines on what to film. “Ultimately, we really had little idea of what everyone was going to do,” said Kyle in an interview. “The biggest excitement came when we saw the depth and range of topics covered.” The footage showcases the incredible diversity, conflict, tragedy, and triumph that occurs in one day on Earth, including many births and weddings, moments of joy and suffering, along with some more unusual events — like a military parade in North Korea, shot in secret.
The task of sorting through all that footage and shaping it into a feature-length film was largely undertaken and funded by Ruddick and Litman themselves, with Ruddick doing much of the video editing in his basement. But it almost never saw the light of day. Running dangerously low on funds, they resorted last year to a Kickstarter campaign to keep the project alive. They managed to raise $44,000 in a matter of days, and with some support from the Ford Foundation, wrapped up the film this past spring.
After four years in the making, “One Day on Earth finally” debuted on Earth Day 2012 in over 160 countries, including a showing at the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York. With music by Paul Simon, Fela Kuti, Sigur Ros, and others, the film is remarkable for how polished it is, while maintaining its authenticity as it captures a dazzling array of human experiences firsthand.
It’s a truly unique snapshot of a single day on Earth — “a time capsule for the whole world to better understand itself,” as the filmmakers put it. They hope “people walk out of this movie feeling a little more interconnected with the rest of the world.” And now that it’s out on DVD, and you can order your own copy. I can’t think of a better stocking stuffer for the world travelers in your life.
And what about all the footage that didn’t make the final cut? It’s freely available in a clever geo-tagged video archive, hosted by Vimeo, that allows you to navigate all the videos and filmmakers who contributed to the project. Not content to stop there, Kyle and Brandon have undertaken a trilogy. They orchestrated a second global day of media creation on Nov. 11, 2011, from which their network of contributors, now 19,000-strong, contributed thousands more hours of video footage. That collection is now being shaped into a second film due for release next year.
And on Wednesday — Dec. 12, 2012 — they’re at it again with a final day of filming. I spoke with Kyle and Brandon last Friday, and was truly inspired by their continuing enthusiasm for the project (which shone through their exhaustion). They’re inviting you — and everybody else on the planet — to grab a camera and do some shooting of your own this Wednesday to contribute your own voice and perspective to the project for this third and final installment. You’ll join the international community of volunteer filmmakers who’ve helped to create the first two films, and who knows — you might just make the final cut.