DOCS TO WATCH: THE LONG GAME
Filming the same people for many, many years takes not just tenacity, but a lot of courage on the part of a documentary maker. There's no certainty of where you and your subjects will end up and what kind of story arcs you'll capture along the way. But whatever the specifics of the story, seeing the passage of time unfold is always fascinating. In the space of a couple of hours, we see kids grow up, watch adults age and trace the long term impacts of life's triumphs and tragedies on strangers who we've come to know and care for.
The directors of Father Soldier Son, who will join us for a Q&A this Thursday evening, spent a decade filming the Eisch family - following dad Brian and his two young sons after he returns from service in Afghanistan with a life-changing injury. The everyday strains and pressures, as well as the moments of hope and joy, are engaging in themselves, but it's capturing the big picture sweep of the years that makes Father Soldier Son so resonant.
Much like watching Ellar Coltrane grow up on camera in Richard Linklater's Boyhood, longitudinal documentaries seem to perform an act of magic before our eyes; revealing to us the mechanisms of time.
So here are some of our favourite longitudinal docs, all available to watch online, to whet your appetitie for Father Soldier Son (which you can watch on Netflix before heading to our Q&A on Thursday 30th - reserve your free ticket here).
7 UP… 63 UP... / 1964 - 2019 / Michael Apted
The first instalment in this ground-breaking series followed the lives of fourteen seven-year-olds from a range of socio-economic backgrounds across the UK. Every seven years, a new instalment has been filmed, creating a chronicle of British life over five decades. To date, there have been 9 episodes, with the most recent, 63 Up, airing in 2019.
The well-loved series is synonymous with director Michael Apted, who was a researcher on the original 7 Up, and took over directing from the next episode onwards.
Much-imitated but never bettered, the UK TV audience has watched the 7 Up-ers grow from school kids to middle age, and as for Michael Apted, he has said he hopes to carry on and make 84 Up when he’s 99.
HOOP DREAMS / Steve James / 1994 / 170 mins
Filmed over five years, the wholly engrossing Hoop Dreams didn’t take long to become a celebrated classic and cement director Steve James as a master of observational documentary.
The film follows the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys – Arthur Agee and William Gates – who dream of becoming professional basketball players.
Capturing the five tumultuous years of their high school careers, Hoop Dreams is an intimate study of teenage-hood as the boys struggle with obstacles at home and at school, as well as a consideration of race, class, expectation and ambition in late 20th Century America.
RENÉ / Helena Třeštíková / 2008 / 90 mins
In 1989, Czech director Helena Treštíková started to film a troubled young man called René. Over the next 20 years – decades in which regimes change and governments fall – Treštíková follows René’s life, much of which is spent in prisons or on the street. Over time, she becomes the only real constant in his life, creating a tension which is woven into the fabric of the subsequent film – René.
Treštíková is the master of what she calls ‘time-lapse’ documentaries, and René is far from her only long-range film. Within two years of releasing René in 2008 she completed Katka, which had been filmed over 14 years, and 2015’s Mallory follows its titular protagonist for 13 years. In 2017, Treštíková completed her latest film Strnadovi (A Marriage Story), telling the story of one couple’s marriage over 35 years.
Watch on dafilms.
QUEST / Jonathan Olshefski / 2017 / 105 mins
Shot over a decade, this tender and moving film is a portrait of a family living in North Philadelphia.
Set against the backdrop of a country now in turmoil and a neighbourhood plagued by inequality and neglect, Quest follows Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a as they raise their children and nurture the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio.
Filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski’s debut feature is not only is a profound testament to love, healing and hope but also a stunning illumination of race, class and community.
MINDING THE GAP / Bing Liu / 2019 / 98 mins
“No ordinary skate film, Bing Liu's 12-year-spanning doc delves into the private lives of three teens, uncovering a common thread of domestic abuse.” - Variety.
Bing Liu's Oscar-nominated film brings together a lifetime's worth of footage about his friends in the American Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois.
They each came from troubled homes, and between them, they find escape and solace in skateboarding. The film follows them through every graze and tumble of their hard-knock lives, until some painful home truths emerge.
As we watch the boys grow up before our eyes, we experience the joy, sacrifice, and hope in the gap between childhood and adulthood.
THE KIDS GROW UP / DOUG BLOCK / 2009 / 92 MINS
Director Doug Block has suffered from Empty Nest Syndrome for some time, and has been talking to friends and family about the traumas of having your children leave home. The thing is, his only child Lucy hasn’t gone yet, and she’s getting quite sick of her Dad moping around after her with a camera.
Surrounded by images of his many filmed conversations with Lucy over the years, Block finds it difficult to be at peace with the rapid passage of time and can’t contemplate life without her at home, much to the annoyance of his sanguine wife Marjorie. A moving, intimate exploration of family life.