Life Is But a Dream

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Life Is But a Dream
Life Is But a Dream.jpg
Promotional poster
GenreDocumentary film
Directed byEd Burke
Beyoncé Knowles
Ilan Benatar (co-director)
StarringBeyoncé Knowles
Narrated byBeyoncé Knowles
Theme music composerBen Salisbury
Robert Schaper (music editor)
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducersBill Kirstein
Lee Anne Callahan-Longo
CinematographyEd Burke
EditorIlan Benatar
Running time90 minutes[1]
DistributorParkwood Entertainment
ICM Partners
BBC Worldwide[2]
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • February 16, 2013 (2013-02-16) (United States)

Life is But a Dream (stylized in all caps) is a 2013 autobiographical television film, directed and executive produced by American singer Beyoncé Knowles. The film was released on February 16, 2013 on the HBO network, in conjunction with Parkwood Entertainment, Knowles' management company. The film uses a combination of professional camera footage, private videos from Knowles' laptop and from her May 2012 4-night revue at Revel Atlantic City. Upon its release, the documentary opened to mixed reviews from critics. It was nominated in the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary category for the 45th Annual NAACP Image Awards.


Background and release[edit]

I wouldn't have released a film just for the sake of self documentation. I wanted it to express what I believe to be true about life – that it's not random, that everything has a reason and that we need to be conscious of life's little clues and how the dots all connect or we miss out.

—Beyoncé Knowles, press release[3]

The project was the culmination of an entire career's worth of archive footage and photographs kept in a digital storage room in Knowles' offices. Since 2005 Knowles hired a "visual director" to film her life,[4] and also used a video camera on her personal computer.[5]

Knowles is known for insisting on privacy, and the media hailed the film as a rare glimpse into her private life. This included documenting the events of her marriage to Jay-Z, her miscarriage, birth of daughter Blue Ivy, as well as her professional split from her father and manager Mathew Knowles.[6] Knowles addressed this in an interview with GQ magazine, saying "I always battle with: How much do I reveal about myself? How do I keep my humility? How do I keep my spirit and the reality? And how do I continue to be generous to — to my fans and to my craft? And how do I stay current? But how do I stay soulful? And it is the battle of my life. When I walk into a stage I'm able to come out of my shell and be as fabulous and over the top and strong and powerful as I want to be."[4]

In the UK, Life Is But a Dream premiered on BBC One on March 28, 2013 at 10:35pm.[7][8] The film was released in Australia through Village Cinemas on May 8, 2013.[9] In Belgium Life is But a Dream premiered on the TV station Eén as Het verhaal van ... Beyoncé on May 9, 2013 at 10:30pm.[10]


The film premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on February 12, 2013. Knowles (wearing an Elie Saab gown) was in attendance as was her husband Jay-Z, her mother Tina Knowles, her sister Solange Knowles, Oprah Winfrey, Russell Simmons and Doutzen Kroes.[11] Knowles appeared on Winfrey's Oprah's Next Chapter, principally to discuss the content and making of the film, as well as her recent Super Bowl halftime show.[12]


Critical reception[edit]

Review aggregation website Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gave the film an average score of 56 based on 14 reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".[13] Oprah Winfrey, who attended the premiere and interviewed Knowles before its screening called it "fiercely empowering," and said "she shocked me, I was in tears. ... She did an amazing job ... I think this documentary is a game changer."[14] Billboard also praised it, saying, "Life is But a Dream is a pleasant surprise of a watch ... The well-oiled, media-trained, hit-making machine has a heart. And it's huge."[15] Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly gave a positive review saying, "What gives this film grit are the visual displays of her work ethic and her fierce determination to 'bring R&B music back' to the center of current pop music, to 'forget being cool' and reveal naked passion."[16] Adam Markovitz of the same publication described the documentary as a "delicate mix of the calculated and confessional, designed to let us just far enough into Knowles' world to keep us interested in her next tour, album, soda allegiance, etc."[17] Carrie Battan from Pitchfork wrote that "there's no unturned insight, no secret to be discovered in this documentary besides the fact that she's simply everything we want her to be."[18] Tom Gliatto of People magazine described the documentary as "gauzy" and "pretty".[19]

Gerrick D. Kennedy from the Los Angeles Times wrote that the documentary "remains a victory for her fans. Casual viewers will most likely glean the same sense of the superstar's life as one might from a magazine feature. But for serious fans of the fiercely private superstar, this remains a window into her life."[20] The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney said, "this is less a documentary portrait than a micromanaged video diary exploring the R&B superstar's relationship with her laptop. The HBO film will be candy to her fan base; just don't expect startling insights into the woman behind the talent."[21] Tirdad Derakhshani of the Philadelphia Media Network wrote that Life Is But a Dream "is a carefully filtered snapshot of an artist who has enough power to become maker of her own myth."[22] Writing for Zap2it, Geoff Berkshire called it a "vanity project and calculated act of image control. The only thing revealed by the film -- co-directed, co-written and co-executive produced by Beyoncé herself -- is a narcissistic inability to give up that desire for control."[23] Television critic Alessandra Stanley from The New York Times gave a negative review for the film, writing, "[Life is But a Dream] is as contrived as Madonna: Truth or Dare, but probably for good reason it is neither daring nor entirely truthful. It's an infomercial, not just about Beyoncé's talent onstage but her authenticity behind the scenes. She is a people-pleasing diva and she wants to keep it that way."[24]


The documentary garnered 2.3 million viewers for the initial broadcast. It was the largest audience for an HBO documentary since Nielsen revised its method of measuring viewership in 2004.[25] The episode of Oprah's Next Chapter in which Knowles appeared to discuss the film was watched by 1.3 million viewers.[26]

Home media[edit]

Life Is But a Dream was released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 25, 2013 in a 2-disc set with bonus concert footage filmed at Revel Atlantic City in 2012 titled Live in Atlantic City. It also featured the new song "God Made You Beautiful". The DVD became Beyoncé's first British chart-topper in her career on the UK Music DVD Chart and her fourth number-one video on the Billboard Top Music Videos chart.[27][28] It was also successful in different countries across Europe, entering the top ten on several charts.


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[29] Gold 7,500^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream". Rotten Tomatoes.
  2. ^ Barraclough, Leo (25 February 2014). "BBC Worldwide Adds Jared Leto's 'Artifact' to Slate (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.
  3. ^ ""Life Is But A Dream" To Be Released On DVD On November 25 Worldwide". PR Newswire/Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records. November 1, 2013. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Wallace, Amy (February 2013). "Miss Millennium: Beyoncé". GQ. Condé Nast Publications. p. 1 and 2. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  5. ^ "Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce Knowles join forces on the red carpet". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  6. ^ Gay, Jason (February 11, 2013). "Beyoncé Knowles: The Queen B". Vogue. Condé Nast Publications. Archived from the original on December 14, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  7. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (March 13, 2013). "Beyoncé's 'Life Is But A Dream' documentary to air on BBC One". Digital Spy. Hachette Filipacchi Médias. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  8. ^ Finn, Gabi (March 14, 2013). "BBC One has announced it will air Beyonce's HBO documentary 'Life Is But A Dream'". Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Beyonce: Life Is But A Dream". Village Cinemas. Australian Theatres. Archived from the original on April 13, 2013. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  10. ^ "Het verhaal van ... Beyoncé op Één om 22:30 uur". TVGiDS. May 8, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  11. ^ Gordon, Naomi (February 13, 2013). "Beyoncé dazzles at HBO documentary 'Life Is But a Dream' premiere". Digital Spy. Hachette Filipacchi Médias. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  12. ^ "Beyoncé for Oprah Winfrey 'Next Chapter' interview". Digital Spy. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  13. ^ "Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream: Season 1". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
  14. ^ "Beyoncé's doc gets an 'O'-mazing review". CNN. Cable News Network, Inc. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  15. ^ Wete, Brad (February 13, 2013). "Beyonce's 'Life Is But a Dream' Documentary Debuts in New York: Review". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  16. ^ Tucker, Ken (February 13, 2013). Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. p. 60. ISSN 1049-0434. {{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Markovitz, Adam (February 16, 2013). "Beyonce's 'Life Is But A Dream' on HBO: Who run the world? Beyonce". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  18. ^ Battan, Carrie. "Beyonce's 'Life Is But a Dream' Pichfork Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  19. ^ Gliatto, Tom (February 8, 2013). People. Time Inc. ISSN 0093-7673. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ D. Kennedy, Gerrick (February 14, 2013). "Beyonce's 'Life Is But a Dream' Los Angeles Times Review". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  21. ^ Rooney, David (February 4, 2013). "Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream: TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  22. ^ Derakhshani, Tirdad (February 17, 2013). "Beyoncé special fails to debunk celebrity illusions". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  23. ^ Berkshire, Geoff (February 16, 2013). "Beyonce's 'Life is But a Dream' review: A superficial look at superstardom". Zap2it. Archived from the original on February 19, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  24. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (February 14, 2013). "Another Cog in the Machinery of Divahood". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  25. ^ O'Connell, Michael (February 19, 2013). "TV Ratings: Dueling Beyonce Specials Bring Big Numbers to HBO and OWN". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  26. ^ Vena, Jocelyn (February 20, 2013). "Beyonce Documentary Draws Historic Ratings For HBO". MTV News. MTV Networks. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  27. ^ "2013 Top 40 Music Video Archive - 7th December 2013". Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  28. ^ "Music Video Sales - December 14, 2013". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  29. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2013 DVDs" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved July 25, 2020.

External links[edit]