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Apted found his lucky `7'

The `Up' documentary series that started with a group of children has reached age 49.

October 13, 2006|Susan Dunne | Hartford Courant

"7 Up" wasn't Michael Apted's idea. In 1964, he was assigned to help create one short documentary about the societal upheavals going on in England.

"In England, there were volcanic changes in social life and cultural life," Apted says. "Rather than going to politicians or journalists or sociologists, it was decided, 'Why not get a group of 7-year-old children and ask them what they thought of their lives, about the world, about England, different issues.' "

The premise was based on a Jesuit saying: "Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man."

"When you're 7, a person's core personality, you can see it in their eyes," says Apted, who was a researcher on that film. "As you watch them grow older, you keep being reminded of that face.... Something has set in by 7, something about your personality that stays with you."

The film was such a sensation, it defined Apted's career from that point. Apted -- directing now -- went back seven years later to find out how the children had changed. Then he did it again, seven years later. And again. And again. And again. Now, 42 years after "7 Up" appeared, "49 Up" is in theaters.

This exercise in cinematic anthropology -- sort of a "life cycle of the contemporary Briton" -- isn't all Apted has done. He has directed an eclectic assortment of movies -- including "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Gorillas in the Mist" and the James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough" -- and has won an Emmy for directing "Rome" and a Grammy for directing a music video with Sting. He is president of the Directors Guild of America.

But it is the "Up" series for which Apted will always be remembered. He believes this is because all filmgoers can relate to "the drama of ordinary life."

While Apted is proud of his series, if he were to start again, he would do some things differently. Primarily, he says, he would have chosen more middle-class children and more girls.

"I was working for a very left-wing company. I was asked to find children who lived on the edges of society, the rich and empowered and the less empowered," Apted says. "As it turned out, it was one of the weaknesses.... The films outgrew their original political roots and social-class roots to become something more humanitarian."

He will continue this humanitarian project, he says, for as long as he can.

"They don't get boring. It would be crazy to stop once we've come this far," he says. "It needs closure. There are always still going to be questions."

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