Documentary films have enjoyed unprecedented success with audiences over the past five years, but according to Thomas Balmes, director of the new film Babies, all those movies — be it Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 — offer a skewed version of reality.
“The specificity of documentary is reality,” insists the director. “Things with narration, interviews, archives, according to me, are not documentary.”
His film, Babies, examines the lives of four babies in four different countries — the U.S., Japan, Namibia and Mongolia -- from birth to their first steps.
“Here you don’t have one thing that has been set up. This is the most rough material in the world; long shots with very little editing, very little music and absolutely no verbal communication,” he says. “Nevertheless you have comedy, you have drama you have tensions, the usual things you can expect from a film.”
Alain Chabat, most famous in North America for directing Asterix and Obelix, first approached Balmes about filming a nature documentary about babies.
“I adopted the original idea to something that I felt comfortable with.”
Having Chabet on board as a producer gave him the trust of their financial backers to create such a simple but ambitious film.
“It’s very unusual to have such confidence,” says Balmes. Normally, “you can’t say to a guy at a studio, ‘Well I don’t know what’s going to happen, but believe me it’s going to be good.’”
Balmes doesn’t favour one form of child rearing over another. Instead, he wants people to compare the way children are raised in different cultures. “I’m fascinated in the variety of cultures.”
The director, born in 1960s France, says his parents went out of their way to not impose a specific lifestyle on him a as a child. He started making films when he was 20, with an aim to “shift perspective not by documenting other cultures, but by comparing them.”
“There is not an agenda behind me, I’m not Michael Moore,” he says. “I make films to have more questions, not to find answers.”