Nerve at SXSW Film 2011: Crowdsourced doc Life in a Day, plus the film that swept the SXSW awards

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To be honest, writer/director Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection hadn't really been on my radar here at SXSW — until it swept most of the festival's major awards last night, like a Texan King's Speech. But the film (about a woman bonding with her dying husband's illegitimate son) is now a must-see after Roger Ebert and the rest of the narrative feature jury awarded it giant belt buckles (the Austin version of Oscars) for Grand Jury Winner, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Score/Music. Natural Selection also scored acting prizes for its two leads, Matt O'Leary and Rachael Harris (who charmingly accepted by way of an iPhone held up to the microphone by Pickering). South-By-Southwest viewers agreed, as the film also received the Audience Award for Narrative Feature.

The other new must-sees are Vikram Gandhi's Kumaré (a profile of a faux guru that scored a movie poster endorsement from Borat director Larry Charles and the Audience Award for Documentary Feature) and director Tristan Patterson's Dragonslayer, a tale of modern-day California skate rats that was the SXSW jury's pick for best doc. The documentary short award, meanwhile, went to Mothersbane, Jason Jakaitis' harrowing chronicle of his own mother's ongoing medical issues, which screened Tuesday along with the festival's other nominated shorts. The films were screened at the supercool Alamo Drafthouse, where patrons can order beer and delicious food — which admittedly became a whole lot less appetizing during Jakaitis' graphic depictions of his mother's various scars and stitches.

Somewhat less harrowing (despite occasional moments of graphic cow slaughter and goopy giraffe birthing) was the feature-length YouTube video Life In A Day, a fascinating if uneven experiment in global crowd-sourcing. Challenged to upload clips depicting a typical day (last July 24th, to be precise), thousands of people from around the world submitted videos of grief, celebration, and everything in between, along with their answers to questions like "What do you love?" and "What do you fear?" Director Kevin Macdonald (and producer Ridley Scott) wound up with 80,000 clips and 4500 hours of video to be shaped into a ninety-minute snapshot of twenty-four hours on planet Earth in the early twenty-first century.

Macdonald tackles this daunting task by organizing the material according to chronology and theme — and while the periodic montages of sunrises and sunsets paired with a bombastically "uplifting" score can sometimes get a bit New Age-y, it's hard not to lose yourself in the gorgeous A.D.D. diversity of this ambitious spectacle. One moment a woman is skydiving through the clouds, another moment we're listening to the beautiful harmonies of African workers singing as they pound wheat into flour, and then we're watching dozens of flaming lanterns rising into the sky. But Macdonald also wisely infuses the film with bursts of comedy, drama, and viral-video showmanship, from the father passing out in a delivery room while shooting the birth of his child to a little girl earnestly questioning the existence of God. As my Nerve colleague Scott Von Doviak noted after the screening, Life In A Day feels like watching previews for dozens of other documentaries — some good and some bad — but the cumulative effect is certainly powerful, and a far more nutritious cinematic meal than wasting ninety minutes on YouTube watching cat videos and Double Rainbow remixes.

Stay tuned for more of Nerve's ongoing SXSW coverage, including a report from tonight's world premiere screening of The Beaver.