The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.
Today’s prompt: What is your favorite documentary?
This is kind of a tough one – I’m not that big a documentary fan. On the other hand, that means I shouldn’t have too many to choose from. On the other other hand, I tend to only see ones that have really good reputations, so most of the ones I’ve seen are excellent. I turned to my Flickchart to see what input it had – it shows I rank Woodstock highest, and I do really love Woodstock. But I’m going to go off-chart and choose the entire Up series as my favorite documentary.
The thing is, each of the seven entries (so far) in the series doesn’t rank that highly, but all of them added together make an incredibly amazing experience that’s much greater than any of the individual films. The series was begun in 1964, when Paul Almond and Michael Apted made Seven Up, a program for British television that brought together fourteen seven-year-olds from diverse British backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics – social, political, personal, etc, with the thesis “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” The assumption was that UK’s social system was set to the point that whatever a child was socially and economically at seven would determine the rest of their life.
Every seven years after that, Michael Apted has returned to these fourteen people (though some have chosen not to participate in later entries) and interviewed them again, seeing what has happened in their lives in between. They’ve done up to 49 Up now, and though simple in idea, it’s a pretty incredible thing to watch, just to see how some people have thwarted their backgrounds, others have taken totally different directions than expected, and still others have remained very close to what the original program would’ve predicted. But more than a social experiment, you really get to see these people as people, and see their struggle not just with their lives, but with the fact that their lives are captured in this documentary series – it becomes to some extent a comment on the documentary process itself, as people will comment back on how they were portrayed or the reaction they got to previous entries in the series. It’s pretty riveting stuff.