Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I recently spoke with Thomas Balmès, filmmaker of the documentary Babies. Let me recap the highlights of our conversation.
In a time when movies and television inundate us with messages--from subtle to blaring--Thomas Balmès' documentary Babies returns to the basics: the joys, adventures, and discoveries of babyhood. Following four babies in their first year of life, Balmès lived with families in Tokyo, Namibia, San Francisco and Mongolia. His film is a cross-cultural voyage through infancy and babyhood from a baby's point-of-view.
Balmès did not create Babies with a social or political agenda in mind. "I don't deliver messages," he said. "I am not a postman. I am a filmmaker."
With little narration, the film speaks for itself via its stunning imagery and cinematography. Balmès favors long, unedited shots, like the opening and closing scenes in the trailer.
Selecting the families was a challenge. At many of the casting locations, he would have more than 100 families to choose from. Both Balmès and the families had to be a good match for each other, as he would live with them for almost a year, capturing their babies' every move on film.
Balmès filmed the four babies mostly serially, one after another. Occasionally, the parents shot additional footage themselves.
Balmès related that it was especially difficult finding American and Japanese families who were comfortable allowing a filmmaker into their intimate space for an extended period of time. He learned to integrate himself into the everyday life of the families. At times, this meant knowing when to step outside to give the families some time alone.
Thanks to the generosity of these four families, Balmès has created a spellbinding documentary. As the camera moves within the baby's point of reference, the quotidian becomes profound. When we see the film, we relive our own childhood. We remember the excitement our own baby's first steps and first smiles.
Balmès' next project? Spending time with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is just 3 years old. For the past few years, he has spent long periods away from home filming other peoples' babies, and now he wants to be with his own family.
When & Where to Watch Babies
Babies premieres on May 7th in North America. Click here to find when your local theater is showing Babies. And if it isn't, put in your vote on the Babies widget on the sidebar! The DVD release date has not yet been announced, but Balmès hopes it will be in time for the Christmas holiday season.
In the meantime, you can watch this featurette, which includes interviews with Balmès, producer Alain Chabat, and Focus Features CEO James Schamus.
What questions do you have for Thomas Balmès?