First Run Features released Michael Apted's entire Up series on DVD last year.
One could argue that the format is ideally suited for such a collection. The initial entries - 7 Up
, 7 Plus Seven
, 21 Up
and 28 Up
- were as influential and revolutionary in England as Stefan Jarl
's They Call Us Misfits
and its sequels were in Sweden. Now, with the release of the latest edition in the series, 49 Up
, we present this interview with the multi-talented Apted (whose latest narrative feature, Amazing Grace
, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival
). We spoke in February of 2005.
I believe that you started as a researcher at Granada Television?
My first job, at the age of 22, was to help find children for this one-off election special looking at England in 1964 though the eyes of children rather through the eyes of journalists, politicians or economists. England was going through a lot of changes at that time and there was a feeling - is it a significant change or is it cosmetic? Is the class system in England about to disappear or is this just something temporary? The feeling was that it would be a good idea to have kids tell us what they thought of the world that they lived in and what future they saw for this world and themselves. Hence, 7 Up was born.
What was your process in selecting the fourteen children?
It was fairly arbitrary because it was made in a hell of a hurry. World in Action was a weekly show and it tended to be about just one subject for the entire half-hour. They occasionally did special films. 7 Up was one of these films, but we had only about three weeks to prepare it. Granada Television definitely had a very political left-wing agenda. I think the idea of the film was to show, from the beginning, that the class system wasn't changing. Therefore, I selected children from the fringes of society, from the extremely wealthy to the extremely blue collar, which ultimately was a mistake and a piece of manipulation. There were very few children from the middle ground. There were two middle class boys from Liverpool and there was a boy brought up in the rural world and a couple of guys from a children's home. These were socio-political choices although the film transcended these decisions. It was funny and moving and very resonant. It didn't just seem to ape its political intentions.
The documentary began to transform without me realizing it. I always thought that I was making a political documentary about my country. When I was first persuaded to show it in America, Americans seemed to respond to it as well as the British did. It occurred to me that since the Americans really hadn't the faintest idea about the language of the English class system, they weren't really understanding the subtleties of it. But the film is much bigger than that now. It is much more about being alive and getting through the day and growing up and making all of the choices that we all have to make. The political side of it became secondary to the human side.
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