One of the greatest documentaries I have ever seen is Up Series.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a series following 14 British children since 1964, when they were 7 years old. Interviews are conducted once every 7 years and children/people are questioned about both their personal and business lives. The last episode was filmed in 2012 when they were 56 years old.
The first episode (7 Up from 1964) is available on YouTube for some reason.
When I watched that episode, I immediately wanted to see the remaining ones. I think the allure is in the fact that you just want to find out what happened to these people after 28 or 49 years – the curiosity is so strong! You also get somehow attached to them. It seems like you know them and even get emotional when something good or bad happens to them. And there isn’t a single person I dislike!
But another thing that is also interesting is that you want to “predict” what will happen. You just can’t help guessing and you have constant feeling that you “were right” about the development or their lives.
But that feeling is deceiving. Even though in some cases you would be right, who could have predicted that one of them would suffer from mental illness (the guy seemed like a pretty normal kid to me)? Or that another child who said was ambitious for fame and power turned out to be a humanitarian and apparently very humble person with a normal family life?
And this is exactly were the producers/ directors/editors have failed miserably. From the very beginning they assumed the a child X will become such and such grown up person and constantly pushed their agenda of typecasting them even though each person is infinitely complex. Take a look at this example:
Brisby said in 35 Up that he only does the films to give more publicity to his chosen charities. In 56 Up, he criticized Apted’s decision to originally portray him as part of the “privileged upper class”. He related that his father had died when he was 9 and his mother had to work to put him through private school. He attended Oxford University on a scholarship.
And if you watch the first episode, you’ll notice that the tone of it is set up as if we are starting a huge and ground breaking experiment which will prove that we know all we need to know about a person at age 7.
The thing that stuck with me the most are the comments of many participants (usually after their adolescence) who stated that the show is pointless and that the interviewer is showing the side of them which he needs to create a narrative of their lives (as he sees fit of course) while ignoring other things which the participant sees as the essence of their personality.
The thing is, the directors made up a story using people in the documentary as actors, even though they are real people. And this manufactured story tells a lot more about the people telling it then the actual persons in it.
So the series turned out to be wonderful for me (for various reasons) but not for the reason I or it’s directors expected. There are many interesting things here, it’s really worthwhile to watch it.
I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next sequel which is due in 2019. 🙂