As a class, we spent the past two lessons watching and studying documentaries, to get a feel of what it is that goes into one; the purposes, how they made us feel, the narratives and objectives. The two watched were Trevor McDonald On Death Row and Life in a Day.
The former film takes us behind bars, to the area where twelve convicts are living out their final days on Death Row in Indiana State Prison. They have each been given their own cell to live in, along with little luxuries such as pets or a TV. The purpose of the documentary is to give us insight into what happens when somebody is given the death sentence, how that person deals with such a stressful situation, and remind the viewers that the prisoners are people too, just like them.
The last bit is an odd point but watching it, if I hadn’t already known what they had done I would have thought they were a normal, harmless person, as most of them came across as polite and personable; which is also pretty unsettling.
As well as those directly affected, he also travels to different areas of the prison, where people not on death row, but will probably spend their entire life, stay to get their views and experiences of either being on or knowing people who have gone on to have their lives ended because of their crimes.
McDonald does a great job at remaining impartial. Throughout he talks to the prisoners without judgement in his voice, getting to know them, their stories of why they are in there. Even when talking to someone who had murdered a mother and her young child for nothing, he was able to remain totally professional. As well as this, he even remained impartial about the death sentence as a whole, only making his view that he was against it known at the end, but even then acknowledging why it existed.
From one emotional subject at one end of the spectrum to another, as we followed this up by watching Riddley Scott’s Life in a Day.
The purpose of the film is summed up nicely by the line used on the advertisement poster, “The story of a single day on Earth,” and it does just that. The makers collected 4,500 hours of footage from people around the world, even going as far as sending cameras to poorer regions themselves, so that they could get an insight of how we as human beings differ and are similar in how we live our life.
They do this by structuring the film so that it begins in the early hours of the morning and ends just before midnight, showing everything from the strange to the incredible to the mundane and in between.
Betsy Sharkey from the Los Angeles Times summed it up nicely when she said:
“Beginning with videos that start pre-dawn then moving through morning, afternoon and evening, … the rituals that define a day begin to emerge. Beyond an extraordinary range of cultures, terrain and styles reflected, which are captivating on their own, the film stands as a stirring reminder of how ordinary and yet eclectic humanity can be. If “Life in a Day” is any measure, we are a quirky, likable, unpredictable and yet predictable bunch.”
It remains objective by balancing the emotions within the film with contrasts between each clip featuring prominently. For example, we are shown a clip of a man who has just lost everything he’s owned, which is followed by a man showing off his Lamborghini, which is then followed by a man who has nothing but still looks pretty happy.