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IDFA International Documentary Festival Amsterdam

The 23rd edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the world's largest and most prestigious film event devoted exclusively to non-fiction film and media, will run from 17 - 28 November in the city of Amsterdam.


Michael Apted Speaks

Tuesday, November 28---Director Michael Apted swung into Amsterdam for a brief junket, mainly to introduce the screening of his latest film MARRIED IN AMERICA 2, the second entry in his ambitious series about being married in america. The film had its world premiere at IDFA on Sunday evening. Following the same methodology that he has used in his very successful 7 UP series (which has been following the same group of people every seven years since they were seven), MARRIED IN AMERICA 2 follows the same set of couples, who have now been married for five years.

Reprinted here are highlights of the Q+A session Apted offered following the press screening of his film 49 UP at the New York Film Festival in October. That film, which is now in general release in the US and making the rounds of the festival circuit internationally, brings us up to date with the group of people he has been following for three decades, who are now turning 49 years of age. The director's singular approach to this kind of serial documentary is unique, as is Apted's ability to move seamlessly between the world of big budget Hollywood filmmaking and the rigours of independent documentary cinema.

The UP series has become a contemporary classic, providing a mesmerizing and provocative study of English society and, more universally, the ups and downs of life as experienced by his expressive subjects. Following the press screening of the latest installment, 49 UP, at the New York Film Festival, the director and one of the film's subjects, Tony Walker, answered journalists' questions. What follows are excerpts from that provocative session:

Question: One of the subjects in the film sharply criticizes you and your techniques. You chose to leave that in the film. Do you agree with her comments?

Michael Apted: Yeah, I do. I’ve always felt that documentaries can get off the hook. Documentaries can be manipulated as much as anything else. I’ve tried to correct this, trying to avoid projecting my own insecure middle class ideas on to the film’s protagonists. That’s why I thought it was important to include her objections to my methods in the film. I guess any filmmaker has expectations of what they want to happen in a scene, and it's important that I be reminded that these are real lives I am playing with, not just a fictional screenplay with professional actors.

Question: A question for Tony Walker....what was it like in the intervening years between the films?

Tony Walker: I always knew that there would be another segment coming up and be just around the corner. I always know that pretty soon I would get a call on the phone from Michael or his assistant. But I never felt that the pressure that I needed to accomplish something so that I had more to say. I just tried to be honest about where I was at any given time. A lot people have asked me about being so open on my marriage problems, but that was what was happening at the time. I tried to give a true reflection and personal interview.

Question: Mr. Apted, how has this project affected your life and career?

Michael Apted: Well, I like to think what I would have been liked at seven years, and if you could tell how I would turn out. I don’t think so, since I was very quiet and cowardly. I can reinvent myself if I want to, but the people in the film can’t…they are there on film. It has changed my professional life. The series has created a basis for my documentary career, which in turns has been a calling card for my feature film career. I think the best movies I’ve done have been more documentary based. I think it’s the single most important piece of work that I’ve done, and it has had a huge effect on my professional life.

Question: Do you allow the participants to have editorial control?

Michael Apted: I don’t really have a choice. If they want the editorial control, they do get it. One or two of them want to see the film before it is locked up. If they insist on not showing something, then it is hard to argue with them. I have to respect that, especially if I want to have their continued cooperation for the follow-up films.

Question: This film was shot digitally. How did these new technological tools affect the process of the filmmaking and the outcome?

Michael Apted: This is the first one I did digitally, the others were done on film. We can do much longer interviews with less obtrusive equipment, which is important for the final outcome, since the film is based on the interviews that I can get. If the takes run longer, I can get more details and get the subjects to relax more. But even thought it has been shot digitally, I do enjoy seeing the final product on a big screen at a film festival or a movie theater. I think it is much more involving that way.

Question: Tony, do you and the other people who are profiled in the film get together off the set and gossip or strategize?

Tony Walker: Yes, we’ve become friends during this experience, some more so, some less so. We get together often and talk about how the film has effected our lives. We all seem to agree that it’s been a great experience to be apart of English television and film history.

Sandy Mandelberger
Online Festival Dailies Editor

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Online Dailies of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 


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