Last semester I watched the documentary Babies. Directed by Thomas Balmes, it follows four babies in the first year of their lives. There is Ponijao from Namibia, Africa, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan and Hattie from the United States. Here is the trailer.
One of the interesting aspects of this documentary is the fact there is absolutely no voice over. There is no explanation about each child's development, culture, or customs. Even the conversation of adults and/or other children is quieted to some extent. The focus is purely on the children.
What makes this documentary so captivating is what Balmes chose to include in the final product. A lot of the film consists of the children exploring the world around them and becoming aware of things, other people, and themselves. One of my favorite moments in the entire film is when Mari is trying to figure out how to put wooden washers on a wooden stick. Every time she fails, she gets frustrated and throws a tantrum of sorts. But after her tantrum is over, she sits up and tries again. This cycle of attempt, failure, frustration, tantrum, and trying again is so entertaining but also captivating. You can see her mind working and trying to get it all to work. There are several moments like this from each of the children. To see the each child develop and grow is what makes this film so impossible not to watch.
However, there are some aspects that raise some questions with me. Throughout the film, I was wondering how much did the filming crew interact with the children? If the crew were filming and the child was doing something that could potentially kill or injure the child, would the crew step in and intervene? In the pursuit of portraying the reality & truth of life, where do you draw the line?
It reminded me of the late Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kevin Carter. You can read his whole life story here. He won his Pulitzer for his photos of Africa including this iconic photo:
Even though he won one of the most prestigious prizes in writing/journalism, Carter received a lot of criticism for this photo. Many believed he should have stepped in and done something to help the dying child. Carter eventually killed himself not long after receiving the Pulitzer. Though the criticism for his lack of intervention was not the sole reason for his suicide (he battled with depression for most of his life), it certainly draws into question how the lack of humanity in the pursuit of truth can affect a human being.