BY DEAN MOSES
Jared Leto is an Academy Award winning actor and musician well-known for his incredible portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club and Harry Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream. Leto has made his mark in front of the screen and on stage with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars, now he wants to make that same indelible mark behind the camera.
An early cut of A Day in the Life of America premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. This documentary follows America itself, but it does not examine our history or a particular section of the country, it, as the title suggests, shows us a day in the life of the United States, all while taking place on our nation’s birthday: July 4th. Leto helms this groundbreaking feature by spearheading 92 film crews who filmed and interviewed individuals from all 50 states for a full 24-hour period. With hundreds of hours of footage to sift through, Leto had his work cut out for him in terms of deciding what material to include in the initiative project.
There is no overall narrative, no one thread the filmmakers are looking to sew, or a theme they wish to follow aside from it all taking place within the 24-hour time frame. For one full day, we meet a motley crew from all over the country. The beauty here consists of meeting these individuals and learning about their lifestyles and their unique perspectives. Some of them live out in the country, some reside in big cities, others have children while more don’t. The viewing experience—like the movie’s premise—is unquestionably a unique one. Absorbing both the visuals—which are quite striking thanks to vast, sweeping drone shots and full frame cameras that produce vivid colors and crisp detail—and the personal stories we discover as the hours whiz by in this condensed format is thought provoking, yet it also feels somewhat disjointed and without a heart to pump life through its veins.
While the feature is compelling from a journalistic point of view, there does seem to be some missing elements in regard to it as an entertainment piece. For instance, seeing as it was filmed across all 50 states back in 2017, I would like to have seen a greater number of stories than the amount that actually found their way in the final product, seeing as some are certainly more interesting than others. Also, I couldn’t help but feel Leto was prouder of his idea’s artistic merit than focusing on the content produced. Still, with that being stated, there is still inspiring moments to be found here such as a gay couple who unapologetically live their lives in the heart of Texas. As previously mentioned, this is still an early cut of the film so there is plenty of time for material to be added and/or removed.
A Day in the Life of America is a compressive and experiential documentary with a running time of 73 minutes. While the concept for the film shines with artistic splendor the end project lacks an imaginative flare that, if corrected, could be a great document of our current era.
My review of this film would not be complete without the inclusion of a personal instance that took place at the film’s premiere. I attend the red carpets with the intention of both photographing and interviewing those involved in the filmmaking process. I was scheduled to interview Jared Leto on this day. However, Leto showed up over 45 minutes late and bypassed a whole host of journalists who had been waiting patiently to speak with him. I don’t like to judge people, there could be a variety of reasons beyond his control that prevented him from arriving on time, yet he could have apologized to the line of people he simply meandered by. I did manage to gain access to the screening though, where he addressed the audience after the documentary concluded.
After the film screened at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) Tribeca Performing Arts Center, a moderator from TFF asked Leto what inspired him to create this documentary.
Jared Leto (JL): I had an idea to make an album where I could travel around the country and interview people, and then write songs loosely around the people, the places, and the stories that I heard. But I did it kind of backwards. I ended up writing this album, and in the middle of it I said ‘Man, maybe this is that American album that I always wanted to do.’
The post screening panel then invited the audience to ask questions, one attendee emotionally stated how the film resonated with him and the importance of knowing their family’s oral history.
JL: It’s interesting watching a film with people for the very first time. You know, you get struck by things in a way that you didn’t before—an emotional component. I was quite moved, and a couple of times where I wasn’t before in the editing room. I found things funny because other people found them funny. It’s about the shared experience, to experience it collectively. That’s a very special thing.
Audience member: What was the criteria as to what kind of footage would go into the film?
JL: I couldn’t even tell you how many hundreds of hours of footage that we have. We were just buried in footage. We could have made a much longer film than this. It was really hard to decide what to include and what not to include. There were so many stories that were compelling; When you make a film that is a part of the challenge. What do you include, what don’t you include. It’s also interesting to see people who we may not agree with. I’m not sure I agree with the [the first scene of the man drinking with a gun]. But I really want to spend a little more time with him. Can’t we just bring him back once or twice more? That’s what I think is kind of cool about the movie, it’s a reminder that you don’t have to agree with everybody on all fronts to get along with them, to have them be your neighbor and to have them be your friend. That’s a really nice thing, but it’s hard. About 10,000 people also contributed. We had 92 crews, and about 95% of the film was from those crews because the quality of film was better, the story telling was a little bit more succinct and consistent. Some of the footage you saw at the end was crowd-sourced through social media.
Photo by Dean Moses