Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Babies... the cutest (and most intriguing) movie ever!

Parenting around the world
Four countries and four babies, from birth to their very first steps... BABIES is beautifully photographed and directed. While you follow the progress of these four children from babyhood to toddlerhood, you experience their culture and witness very different parenting styles. I loved the breastfeeding scenes and the interaction with the babies with various farm animals! Another scene that was very interesting to me as a Western parent is witnessing how an African mother copes with baby's poo - what an eco-friendly way to deal with it - no nappy or toilet paper needed, just an empty cob... And there were nail-biting moments too, as some of the babies do very grown-up things I wouldn't even entrust to my toddler!

Babies - click here for more info
Meet the BABIES
The babies' names are Ponijao, Bayarjargal, Mari and Hattie, and they live in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States. The film captures the funniest, most carefree and poignant moments - unique and at times universal incidents all children share in their first months of life.

Meet the parents 
BABIES, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 28 March, is shown in selected cinemas (click here to find out your nearest cinema). In November and December 2010, screenings of BABIES were organised for the parents and children who starred in the film. The little stars have grown up and are now aged between three and a half and four years old. The parents were asked for feedback and here are
the different perspectives of the mothers and fathers from Namibia (Tarererua and Hindere), from the United States (Susie and Frazer), from Japan (Seiko and Fumito) and Mongolia (Mandakh and Purev).

“I agreed to do the project because I never went to hospital for any of my pregnancies and it meant I could be cared for by a doctor. I am very poor and I’d never have had the means to go to a doctor otherwise. It was very interesting to be filmed at the same time as other women from different countries.” (Tarererua)
“The production company paid Tarererua’s hospital bills without asking me for anything. I didn’t need to sell a goat. We were paid for the shoot, but we only agreed to do it for the sake of Ponijao’s future. Before starting filming, Thomas brought us many things like flowers and food. He chose my wife from among many others. He was very welcome!” (Hindere)
The shoot: “I was happy during the shoot. Thomas filmed from morning to night. We only stopped for lunch. We worked together like we were part of a family. We were happy when he came to shoot. He made sure he always checked if everybody was healthy and happy. He brought us what we needed; food, mainly. He took care of us. To me, Ponijao is a star. This was the first time I’d ever seen her on a screen. She is very happy and joyful in the film. I want her to be healthy. I’d like her to live in a nice place, in a better home so that she can take care of her own children as we have done for her with the money we got for the film.” (Tarererua)
On the other cultures: “The development of the other babies is different. I think they have better living conditions. Their mothers feed them well. They eat healthy food and they are in good health. But I was surprised to see that they don’t look after them, they are alone. I was afraid the little American girl would hurt herself when she fell from the car in the park. As for me, you can see I’m with my children. The happiest one is the little Mongolian boy, even if he just plays on his own with his roll of bathroom tissue.” (Tarererua)
What the children think: “Ponijao was very happy to see the film. She saw herself as a baby and then crawling! She’s proud to say she’s been in a film with her brother, sister and mother. You don’t see me in the film, even though I was sometimes there during shooting. It’s not only the women who look after the babies; the fathers do it too, but the men are always very busy looking after their herd.” (Hindere)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I was surprised to see the American mother put a pump on her breast to extract her milk and be able to nourish her daughter. Here, we wait for the milk to come of its own accord. It can take two days. In the meantime, we give the baby goat’s milk. I found that very interesting.” (Tarererua)
Family facts:
  • The family are members of the Himba tribe.
  • They live in Epembe, near Opuwo, in northwestern Namibia.
  • They breed cows and goats.
  • Hindere (the father) is constantly moving around to find water for his animals.
  • They live in very close harmony with nature.
  • Ten children in the family, including a newborn. The eldest, Tjombinde, is almost 26 and Ponijao, the second-youngest, is three-and-a-half years old.
  • Tarererua was around eight months pregnant when the director met her for the first time.
  • Tarererua is divided between her desire for a nice house in a town and continuing the Himba tradition, and passing that on to her children.
  • Only one of the couple’s children goes to school but their mother would like to send two more.
  • Ponijao’s character: A strong sense of family, at ease with herself, very photogenic, loves dancing, prefers playing with a food sack than with a real toy!

“The project offered a universal vision of childhood. We thought it would be interesting for Hattie to be in contact with other countries. All these babies are growing up according to their own culture. You see life for what it is and it opens up horizons for us. It would be good if at the age of 12 or 13, Hattie could travel to meet up with the other children in the film.” (Susie)
The shoot: “It was extremely exciting taking part in the project but we didn’t want to have a camera crew on our heels all the time. I know what that means as I work in the movie business! We asked that Hattie be filmed only as a baby, without getting too involved in our lives.” (Frazer) 
“We didn’t want to be filmed during the birth. We had a contract stipulating that the natural needs of the baby would be respected such as eating and sleeping. We would have pulled out immediately if that hadn’t been the case. Frazer even shot certain scenes himself. He could separate out our life and that was great. It wasn’t like we always had a film crew hanging around us. Hattie isn’t a star. She’s just a child with a child’s needs. She’s afraid of nothing. She tries things out and if it doesn’t work out for her, she carries on regardless! She watches carefully and nothing upsets her. It’s wonderful to see her discovering the world around her. I loved hearing her make her first sound. I also loved the scene where she peels a banana, bites it from the wrong side, discovers that it tastes bad, spits out the piece and throws it away. At the time, we couldn’t tell her but she got it anyway. She won’t do it again!” (Susie)
“The scenes in the hospital were poignant and hard to watch. We had a bad experience with Hattie’s birth. She had a little trouble breathing and the doctors had to clear fluid from her lungs. She wasn’t in danger. In the hospital, there were lots of monitors and doctors. There were also premature babies who were really in a bad way. Fortunately, Hattie wasn’t in that situation. She took some antibiotics and came home three days later.” (Frazer)
On the other cultures: “I’ve never been to Tokyo but I identified with the Japanese mother in her way of educating her child: going to the park, to the zoo, taking her child to daycare because she has a job. In Namibia, children grow up in a different culture. The traditions are very strong. Ponijao has the same necklace as her mother and the first thing she wears is a loincloth. Namibian children are more indulged than ours are. We don’t have that kind of freedom. In the United States, if you saw a child lick a dog’s tongue in a park, there’s be a dozen parents who’d yell at it to stop. In Namibia, nobody panics; everything is simple.” (Susie)
What the children think: “Hattie felt very involved in the subject of the film. She pointed at herself when she appeared on screen. She loved the scene when she’s jumping up and down in her bouncy chair, and the one where she’s looking at the cat. She also found the sequences where the other children were having their hair cut very interesting. She was captivated by seeing the little Mongolian boy taking a pee. Her curiosity drove her to ask if it was a girl’s pee or a boy’s one! She was also very surprised by the rooster walking through the Mongolian baby’s bedroom.” (Susie)
Surprising and funny sequences: “The film is full of amazing scenes. There’s the one with the little Japanese girl who tries to understand how her toy works. She manages to do it by accident, starts again and can’t repeat it. She’s overwhelmed and lets you know it! The scene with the goat in Mongolia is amazing. She drinks the water from the baby's bath and he doesn’t mind at all. When he hears his mom yelling at the animal, he looks closer and seems to realize there’s something unusual going on. It was also very interesting to see the Namibian mother coat her stomach with that red powder and put it on her son’s head after having cut his hair with a knife.” (Susie)
On the experience: “Thanks to this project, I was able to observe Hattie more attentively. It’s very interesting to see things from her point of view. It was like being at the theater, even if a film crew was there. But in watching the film, I felt Hattie wouldn’t have anyone to emulate. She’s an only child. This occurred to me when I saw a scene with the Mongolian baby. Everybody around him is sharing so much with him. It was beautiful to see!” (Susie)
Family facts
  • They live in Oakland, near San Francisco.
  • Susie, the mother, is a professor at Stanford University (California).
  • Frazer, the father, is a cinematographer. His first feature as a director (EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW) won awards in many festivals in the United States.
  • Neither grew up in Oakland, but they have lived there since they went to university in the early 1980s.
  • One child: A daughter, Hattie.
  • Hattie’s character: A curious, energetic child who is shy at first but very sociable after five minutes. She loves telling stories, going for bike rides, painting and doing gymnastics.
“I was pregnant when we first heard about the project. As this was our first child, I saw the possibility for an amazing and unusual experience for the whole family. My husband and I work in fashion. We know what a shoot is but appearing in a documentary is very different. I didn’t imagine this film would be released all over the world!” (Seiko)
“The project had meaning. For people of my generation, being a father means a lot. My own father was very busy. He didn’t put much energy into his relationships with his family and educating his children. Twenty years ago, Japan was very focused on economic development. Women didn’t work and mothers took care of the home while fathers worked hard elsewhere. Now, our country is richer. We have more time to take care of our families.” (Fumito)
The shoot: “Obtaining authorization to film in Tokyo is very difficult; it was very hard for the team to shoot outside the apartment and they weren’t allowed to film in the hospital. At no time was shooting a problem for us. We let them do what they had to do and they were extremely considerate. But sometimes when they wanted to shoot, Mari wanted to go to sleep!” (Seiko)
“In the film, we witnessed the first steps of a great star of the future! My favorite scene is the one where she is in the toy shop in her stroller. She looks around, her eyes wide open. She seems like she’s looking for something in particular. It’s very cute.” (Fumito)
On the other cultures: “I think I am quite a lot like the American mom in my beliefs. We’re both the type to take classes or meet other families with children. On the contrary, the Namibian mother takes care of her baby all on her own. She is pretty silent, but you feel like she loves him a lot. It’s a society that seems more closed in on itself but there are no doubt very strong links binding the members of that family.” (Seiko)
What the children think: “Mari recognized herself when she watched the film. She knew it was her, she recognizes her own face. We film her all the time and show her the movies. But she didn’t really like seeing herself on screen as a baby because now she’s a big girl!” (Seiko)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I wondered why the little Mongolian boy is tied to the bed with string. I think it’s very cold there in winter. Maybe it’s to keep him warm?” (Seiko)
On the experience: “I found the film very moving. A lot of love emanates from it. You also see the physical and emotional evolution of the children. That’s a common denominator for all the families. I hope the public will feel the same thing.” (Seiko)
“The film offers a wonderful look at the evolution of four babies. When people see it, they will understand the power a child has over its life.” (Fumito)
Family facts
  • The parents work in fashion.
  • When Mari was born, they lived in a small apartment in Tokyo, in the Shinjuku neighborhood in the northeast of the city. A year and a half ago, they moved to Minato-Ku in the center.
  • One child: A daughter, Mari
  • Mari and her cat are very close. He was already there before she was born. She is very authoritative with him and sometimes they squabble, like cats and dogs!
  • Mari’s character: She’s curious about everything, constantly looking for new sensations and new places every day. She gets a thrill out of being frightened, she has a very good appetite and looks after her dolls like a mother!

“When we first heard about the project, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be filmed. We were told that we wouldn’t be play-acting, that we should just continue behaving as normal. The idea was to observe our lives and the way our children grow up. We didn’t have to make any effort and nobody wasted our time. I liked that approach so my wife and I decided to agree.” (Purev)
The shoot: “Several times we left the team alone with the baby. We trusted them. We couldn’t stay with him all the time just because the crew was filming. We were very busy with the animals and the household tasks. We just carried on as normal. In winter, to stop the baby burning himself on the stove in the middle of the yurt, we tied his ankle to the bed with string. That way, he had a perimeter of freedom but he was safe when he was left alone. That’s how we bring up our children in Mongolia. To us, Bayarjargal isn’t a movie star. I loved seeing him take his first steps at the start of the film. The rest of the time, you have the feeling that he fights a lot with his brother but in reality, they are very close. They share their food and protect one another. When one of the children here has a problem, they deal with it together.” (Purev)
On the other cultures: The Japanese and American babies seem to be pretty advanced. These countries raise their children within a group. Their parents sing with them. They are very hands-on. But I was sorry for the little Japanese girl because she spends all her time closed up inside. And she has so many people around her! I’d like her to grow up well. But the one who interested me most was the little African girl. Over there, children are raised in the school of hard knocks!” (Purev)
What the children think: “The film talks about me, the sky and the sounds in the sky. It shows me when I fell off my scooter. I got up straightaway. It also talks about my brother who bites me! I didn’t recognize myself all the time. I remember the times when I was riding my bike and I like the bit when you see me learning to walk.” (Bayarjargal)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I liked the simplicity with which the little Namibian girl is being brought up. In the United States and in Japan, children are educated like they are in Mongolia. Even if they are city kids whereas ours are very close to nature, it’s very similar. We can’t be with them all the time because we also have lots of work to do.” (Mandakh)
On the experience: “The film shows very clearly how we raise our children. In Mongolia, they grow up at the heart of the steppes. They are in contact with nature. Their life is peaceful. I like seeing the freedom in which my family lives on the screen. I’d like all the children in the world to experience the internal peace we have. The film also made us think about what we should change here to improve our life. Our sanitation conditions are nothing like what they have in the West. It will help us improve them and organize our home better.” (Purev)
Family facts
  • The family lives in Bayanchandmani, in the center of the country, in the steppes.
  • They have two children, both boys, the youngest being Bayarjargal.
  • They raise cattle and sheep.
  • They live very close to nature.
  • Bayarjargal’s character: He is sensitive, willing, and extremely cooperative. He is honest, attentive to others and likes to pit his strengths against them. He is sure of himself, confident and he loves to play with his brother with whom he is extremely close. He loves riding his bike.

Ponijao (Namibia)
Tarererua and Hindere (Namibia)
Mari (Japan)
Seiko and Fumito (Japan)
Hattie (United States)
Susie and Frazer (United States)
Bayarjargal (Mongolia)
Mandakh and Purev (Mongolia)

Film crew
Thomas BALMÈS: Screenwriter - director - a graduate of the Institut Supérieur d’Études Cinématographiques. Father of three.
1992: Created his company TBC Productions.
2002: Created his company Margot Films.
He has worked with many TV channels including Canal+, BBC, SVT and SBS,
and has won awards at festivals in Berlin, Jerusalem, Nyon, Prague and San Francisco.
2010 BABIES (screenwriter-director-executive producer)
2005 DAMAGES (screenwriter-director-producer)
2004 A DECENT FACTORY (screenwriter-director-producer)
2001 LE DERNIER DES PAPOUS (screenwriter-director-producer)
2000 WAITING FOR JESUS (screenwriter-director-producer)
1999 THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE PAPUANS (screenwriter-director-producer)
1997 MAHARAJAH BURGER (screenwriter-director-producer)
1996 BOSNIA HOTEL (screenwriter-director-producer)
1995 Making of PAR DELÀ LES NUAGES by Michelangelo ANTONIONI

Alain CHABAT: Screenwriter and producer
1987: Creation of the comedy quartet, “Les Nuls”.
1994: Creation of his production company “Chez Wam”.
1996: Started out as a feature film director.
César award for Best First Film for DIDIER.
President of the “Les Toiles Enchantées” charity. Father of three.
2010 BABIES by Thomas BALMÈS (screenwriter-producer)
TOGETHER’S A CROWD by Léa FAZER (producer)
2008 UN MONDE À NOUS by Frédéric BALEKDJIAN (producer)
LA PERSONNE AUX DEUX PERSONNES by Nicolas & Bruno (producer-actor)
2006 I DO by Eric LARTIGAU (screenwriter-producer-actor)
2004 RRRrrrr !!! by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-producer-director-actor)
2002 ASTERIX AND OBELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-coproducer-director-actor) 
1997  DIDIER by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-coproducer-director-actor)

Bruno COULAIS: Composer
Studied violin and piano. Father of three.
2 Victoires de la Musique awards for MICROCOSMOS and THE CHOIR.
Oscar for Best Song for THE CHOIR.
2007: Sacem Music Grand Prix for Audiovisual.
2010: Annie Award for Coraline.
Has composed several operas, mainly for women.
2010 BABIES by Thomas BALMÈS
OCEANS by Jacques PERRIN & Jacques CLUZAUD
2009  CORALINE by Henry SELICK
VILLA AMALIA by Benoît Jacquot
MAX & Co by Samuel and Frédéric GUILLAUME
2004  BRICE DE NICE by James HUTH
2003 THE CHOIR by Christophe BARRATIER
1997 ALREADY DEAD by Olivier DAHAN

Crew - more credits

Original idea                                  Alain CHABAT
Director/Adaptation                     Thomas BALMÈS
Production and                               CHEZ WAM
executive production                     Alain CHABAT
                                                     Amandine BILLOT
                                                     Christine ROUXEL
Executive production                     TBC Productions
                                                     Thomas BALMÈS  
                                                     Jill COULON
Original music                                Bruno COULAIS
Production                                     Martin JAUBERT
Post-production supervisor            Cyril CONTEJEAN
Assistant director                         Jill COULON
Editors                                          Craig MACKAY (AFC)
                                                     Reynald BERTRAND
Assistant editors                          Erica FREED
                                                     Colette BELTRAN
                                                     Pauline CASALIS
                                                     Cédric JOUAN
Sound editors                                Samy BARDET
                                                     Armelle MAHE
Assistant sound editor                   Jérôme FAUREL
Sound re-recording mixer              Thierry LEBON
Music editor                                  Joseph DEBEASI

Babies - the DVD

More info
CHEZ WAM presents: BABIES (Bébés)
An original idea by Alain CHABAT.  A film directed by Thomas BALMÈS
Released on 16 June 2010. Duration:  76 minutes

Images © 2010 Chez Wam/Thomas Balmès. This is a DVD review, sample was sent by Think Jam PR.

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