My Life of What Ifs

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My interview with Thomas Balmès, Director of Babies

I love Babies.  I mean, I love babies, but I don't want anymore of my own, but I can't wait to see Babies.  The movie.

Opening this Mothers Day Weekend on Friday, May 7, Babies simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.

Presented by Focus Features from an original idea by producer Alain Chabat, Babies is directed by award-winning filmmaker Thomas Balmès who was kind enough to share some time with me and Carrie a blogger from Seattle and answer our questions about a film sure to melt the hearts of many.

How do you go from making the types of non-fiction films you have made in the past to making a documentary about babies?

Any film I am doing, and it can be about the conversion of a tribe in Papua New Guinea, or it can be about the social work conditions in China from the Nokia factory, what is always important for me is the form and the way I am going to tell a story.  All my films are dealing with the same issues, which are the western way of thinking, the western way of believing, and the western way of behaving, and just challenging and bringing up questions of feeling that this is the only way of doing things.

So I can repeat myself with different subjects but I don't think that I'm doing a different film.  All the films are almost the same in a way, so the subject is babies but it is not only that and once you see the film you will understand that this is something about globalization.

How did you pick the families that were involved in this movie?

What I was really looking for in the four babies was their environment and the capacity to be metaphorical of four ways of being confronted by the western way of living.  You have a diversity there of being totally disconnected from that western way of living in Namibia to something that is a bit more connected in Mongolia, to something a bit more connected in America and then something where I guess the whole world is going to be in the next 10 years in Tokyo.

We wanted to find four families in which all of them would be loving parents.  Happy parents with the idea of getting a baby, not having any trouble in social problems, this is not something about social conditions in different countries, it is much more about watching this baby growing up with eight different parents but in different enviroments.

How old are the babies in the film?

Right now the babies are all between three and four.  I started to film in 2006 through February 2008 and I covered between 12 and 18 months of their lives.  They were not all born at the same time.

What was the biggest challenge in filming this movie?

The biggest challenge was not being too disturbing to the families both in Japan and America.  You can imagine the kind of committment I could get from the families for allowing me in their living rooms for such a long time.  Even a few hours can be so disturbing on your private life.

The other challenge was to keep my wife from divorcing me and my own three young children happy for the almost 400 days of shooting I was away.  I always say I spent more time with these four babies then I did my own family.

Many families were met with in each country and their participation was determined by their stage of pregnancy when it was time to begin filming.  Balmes is very pleased with the four families picked for the film and stays in touch.  He spent time with each family last December showing them the film and getting their feedback, which he called a 'fascinating process'.

The good news is that they all loved it which was not obvious when I started the film.  Doing such a documentary sometimes you have to be pushy and convince them to let you film things that they don't think are interesting or that they won't be represented well.

Balmes says there are many hilarious moments in the film, but he is never making fun of anyone.

The idea is not to be judgemental to these different cultures but to just give a mirror to our society and maybe challenge a few beliefs we have of what we should do and what we should not do with our kids, on many issues.

I think I will be fascinated by the similarities between the different families that you wouldn't expect.

The similarities are much more important than the differences.  What ever you are surrounded by, where ever you live, nothing compares to the time and affection and the love you get from your parents.  There is this kind of universal need from these four babies and as long as you're loved everything goes well, and as long as your parents love you and spend some time with you you're going to be fine.

This is a universal film and there is one message.  If you watch the trailer, and take notice of the opening shot and the closing shot you will see a good representation of the subject of the film.

Thomas Balmès has been working as an independent director and producer of nonfiction films, specializing in international co-productions, since 1992. His initial projects included studies of filmmakers James Ivory and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Mr. Balmès directed his first film in 1996; Bosnia Hotel was the story of U.N. Kenyan peacekeepers in Bosnia. This was followed by Maharajah Burger; Mad Cows; Holy Cows, about the mad cow crisis as seen from the Indian perspective; and The Gospel According to the Papuans in 2000. The latter, tracking the conversion to Christianity of a Papuan Chief, was honored with the Silver Spire Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. He directed a sequel in Papua the following year, Waiting for Jesus.
A Decent Factory, the story of a Nokia executive who inspects a mobile phone factory in China, was screened at more than 50 film festivals and received many honors, including a Europa Award. The film was released theatrically in the U.S. in 2005.

Damages, a.k.a. How Much Is Your Life Worth?, was filmed at a Connecticut law firm specializing in personal injury cases, and was co-produced by 15 countries and broadcast worldwide.
Mr. Balmès initiated a series for national Japanese television, Tokyo Modern; and produced A Normal Life – Chronicle of a Young Sumo Wrestler, directed by Jill Coulon, which screened at Amsterdam´s 2009 International Documentary Film Festival.
He is regularly invited to conduct lectures and master classes in France; and abroad, such as at the 2008 Lisbon International Film Festival, and at Brown University and the Watson Institute in 2009.

I was not compensated in any way for printing this interview or sharing the materials or my thoughts on Babies.  I may receive contest entries for clicks on my content but my opinions were not influenced any way by anyone.  I am a bzzagent :)

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