The bell rings, and the student in the crowded hallway physically arrives where he has been emotionally alone all day.
For the last decade, filmmaker Rick Stevenson has carefully documented the lives of more than 100 kids in his venture, “The 5,000 Days Project.” Seeking a more honest and detailed record of the difficulties and joys of pre- to late-adolescence, Stevenson closely followed individuals’ lives from ages 8 to 18 with interviews, video diaries and filming of day-to-day events. Ultimately, 10 years of growth are encapsulated in one hour. With a Ph.D in philosophy from Oxford, Stevenson sought to create a series full of unfeigned material.
“On a philosophical level, I want to encourage people to share who they are, weaknesses and all,” Stevenson said. “When we expose those things to air, they lose their power over us and they create empathy in others. I truly think we’re drawn to each other’s weaknesses, those things that we all struggle with as humans. This whole idea of trying to look perfect — who are we trying to fool? Certainly not Heavenly Father. It’s how people get isolated and feel trapped. We all need to trust each other more and leave any judgment to Heavenly Father.”
Stevenson had his first episode when the project aired on BYUtv, which featured two BYU students, Sam Nelson and Luke Nelson. Through candid footage, the Nelson brothers bluntly and sincerely spoke about more than just the fun highlights of their lives. They delved deep into emotional difficulties such as depression, peer pressure and forgiveness.
Carolyn Haynie, a public relations student from Shoreline, Wash., has known the Nelson brothers for 12 years.
“It showed the boys as who they are,” Haynie said. “They’re very real, down to earth people. Luke is such a spunky and happy person. I think that came out quite a bit. Sam’s sense of humor and personality really came out when he was with his companion during their culture day. He is a thinker and that really came out in it as well. His thought process was very evident, which is so refreshing to find on television these days. A real thought process, not just something that you think is made for the camera or made for the audiences; it was real.”
This raw reality, that Haynie praises, uniquely gives viewers the opportunity to feel as if they have known the participants for years. In a little more than an hour, Stevenson takes viewers through Sam’s journey of learning to embrace feelings of empathy for those in pain with diminishing feelings of depression, Luke’s journey of learning to achieve a life goal on a team while resisting peer pressure and the Nelson family’s unified decision to move in order to bless one family member.
Two to three times a year, Stevenson interviews the participants with the “5,000 Days” questions, and then has the participants record video diaries for important things that are happening in their life. With vocal reflection so heavily emphasized, participants find themselves talking out their struggles and explaining their solutions to a blinking red light. The acceptance of that blinking light for some, however, comes over time.
“I’m a more private person, but I felt like I should do it,” said Sam Nelson. “I didn’t think I was going to like it as much as I actually do. I started to really appreciate it when I was on my mission. I had those video diaries and they showed around 10 minutes of it, but there was actually another 150 hours of me just talking about whatever in front of the camera. Also, I grew up knowing that there would be a movie made of me. So I lived my life a little bit differently. I did things that I probably would not have done otherwise.”
“Two Brothers” is only the first of many presentations in this project. Though Stevenson is continuing to film Sam at BYU and Luke serving a full-time mission in Cambodia, he has many other series that he is producing from this production, such as “Listen,” which will feature 13 different kids.
The majority of the DVD purchase money and donations go to future “5,000 Days” projects. Contrary to the stereotypical Facebook photo album that seeks to only highlight the most appealing and fun moments of one’s life, the “The 5,000 Days Project” displays all of the pictures, even those in darkness.