British director captures one day in the life of the world

Jonathan Romney on a quirky hit culled from YouTube that has stolen the limelight

The whole world came to the Berlin Film Festival this weekend, in a film made by the Oscar-winning British director Kevin Macdonald – along with 332 hitherto-unknown names from 192 countries. Produced by Ridley Scott, Life in a Day was initiated by the video website YouTube and features footage shot from users around the world. Comprising events all shot on 24 July 2010, the film resulted from YouTube's inviting users to send in their own material. Macdonald and an editor, Joe Walker, assembled the film from the resulting 4,500 hours of images.

The film is an impressionistic portrait of global diversity, offering multiple glimpses of everyday life, with an emphasis on the celebratory – images of newly born babies (humans as well as giraffes), weddings, romantic interludes, and contributors' highly personal humour. But there is also darker material – footage of the Love Parade dance music festival in Duisberg, Germany, in which 19 people were killed in a stampede; a family living in poverty in a Cairo cemetery; and a sequence in which a young photographer, Massoud Hussaini, shows us everyday life in Kabul, intercut with a US soldier's wife Skypeing with her husband.

Some 80 per cent of the film comes from footage directly uploaded by the public. The rest is material from the developing world, for which the film-makers distributed more than 400 video cameras via assorted NGOs.

The film arrives in Berlin having premiered last month at the Sundance festival and simultaneously on YouTube itself. Macdonald – who won an Oscar for his documentary One Day in September – says of Life in a Day, "I thought we were making an experimental art film, I'm surprised how much people loved it... There's a lot about mortality – it's about wanting to live your life to the full, wanting to leave a mark."

Tonight, in London, this year's Bafta film awards are announced. Leading the field are The King's Speech and Black Swan, with 14 and 12 nominations respectively, each including Best Film. Actors in the running include Colin Firth (The King's Speech), James Franco (127 Hours) and Javier Bardem (Biutiful), while Best Actress nominees include Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, both of the US comedy The Kids Are All Right. The late Pete Postlethwaite has a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Town.

Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan are other British contenders for Best Director. Outstanding British debuts include The Arbor – Clio Barnard's drama-documentary about the Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar – and the science-fiction thriller Monsters, as well as Banksy's controversial essay Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Also nominated for best performances are the leads in the Coen brothers' Western True Grit: Jeff Bridges and the film's female lead, 15-year-old Hailee Steinfeld.