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What Becomes of the Dreams of Children? Acclaimed Director Michael Apted Returns With Latest Installment of Groundbreaking Documentary Experiment That Began with ‘Seven Up!’

“It is a mystery, this business of life. I can’t think of any [other] cinematic undertaking that allows us to realize that more deeply.”
—Roger Ebert

Watch 56 Up – Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.

In 1964, director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorky Park, Gorillas in the Mist) was a young researcher on the experimental documentary series World in Action for a program called Seven Up!, produced for England’s Granada Television. Taking its cue from the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” the film focused on 7-year-olds from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. By asking 14 children about their lives and their hopes and fears for the future, the filmmakers aimed to explore contemporary English attitudes, especially regarding the class system, as expressed by children. And by following the youngsters as they progressed through life, the Up series looked to test the strength of that system and the truth of the Jesuit saying. Was the adult already visible in the 7-year-old?

After Seven Up!, Apted took the series’ directorial helm, and over the half-century since, he has returned every seven years to ask the same subjects to talk about how they see their lives. The result has been a unique, inspired and always-surprising chronicle of lives-in-the-making. In 56 Up, Apted finds the “kids” have mostly weathered the marital, parental and career tumults of middle age with remarkable aplomb, even as they begin facing the challenges of aging, illness and economic crises.

56 Up has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 at 10 p.m. (check local listings), on the award-winning PBS series POV (Point of View). The film is part of the new PBS INDIES SHOWCASE, a four-week series of independent documentaries airing on Monday nights from Sept. 30-Oct. 21. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

From cab driver Tony to schoolmates Jackie, Lynn and Susan to the heartbreaking Neil, more life-changing decisions and surprising developments are revealed as the participants turn 56. Apted employs a telescopic method when presenting his subjects, cutting back and forth between the present time of 56 Up and clips from earlier installments to create portraits in motion. For veteran viewers of the series, this is rich cinematic fabric. Apted quickly and dramatically brings up to speed anyone who hasn’t seen some or all of the previous films.

Not all original Up subjects have agreed to participate in each of the films. Some have dropped out and then back in, for reasons they best explain themselves, and one of the delights of 56 Up is the love-hate relationship some have with the series.

“This project has spanned my entire working life. It has been a unique and fulfilling experience, the one I treasure most in my career,” says Apted about the Up series, which won a 2013 Peabody Award. “I never know how each new film will turn out, except that it’ll be quite different from the last. 21 Up was full of hope, 28 was about children and responsibility, 35 was concerned with mortality when some were losing parents, and 49 had a sense of disappointment with lives maybe not fully achieved. Yet 56 Up is quite different again, which goes to prove, if nothing else, that our series mirrors life–and is always full of surprises.”

56 Up is another step in a life-spanning project–for filmmaker, subjects and viewers–that has no parallel in the history of film. Like its predecessors, it probes a profound question: What becomes of the dreams of children?

56 Up is a production of ITV Studios Limited. Like all the episodes of the Up series since 28 Up, 56 Up is a First Run Features release in the United States; it will be available on DVD this fall.

Meet the people in ’56 Up‘:

Ebullient, charming, cockney-accented East Ender Tony wanted to be a jockey when we met him in Seven Up! The series followed him as he saw his dream come true and then gave it up to be a cabbie. He’s been successful enough to own a home in England, which he shares with his wife, Debbie, and their children and grandchildren. He also owns a vacation home in Spain. In 56 Up, Tony shows the lot he was planning to develop before the economy turned sour. He seems happy, yet he harbors guilt about infidelities and frustration with the immigrants who have changed his beloved East End. He talks about 32 years of marriage. “High and low, Debbie has stood by me,” he says tearfully. “At the end of it, I still love her so.” As he visits the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, formerly the site of a dog track in his East End neighborhood, he brims with pride. The Up series has brought him such recognition that when astronaut Buzz Aldrin was his passenger, a taxi driver pulled up and requested an autograph. When Tony asked Aldrin to oblige, the other cabbie said, “No . . . I want your autograph.” Says Tony, “To this day I thought to myself, ‘I’m more famous than Buzz Aldrin? He’s the second man to land on the moon!'”

“I want to be an astronaut, or if I can’t be an astronaut, I think I’ll be a coach driver,” said 7-year-old Liverpudlian Neil. He went from happy child, to homeless young adult, to a man working doggedly at political and writing careers that can’t sustain him financially. He says he’s appearing in 56 Up in part because he “wants to set the record straight in a number of ways. For so many millions of people I’m here wearing my heart on my sleeve and they think they know absolutely everything about me.” Despite doubts about God and religion expressed in previous Up films, Neil is seen in 56 Up working as a lay minister at a local church.

Peter and Neil were friends growing up in Liverpool. Peter stopped participating after 28 Up because the media and viewers saw him as “angry young Red in Thatcher’s England,” but he has returned for 56 Up with the frank intention of promoting his folk band the Good Intentions. “I was an easy target,” he says of his experience 28 years ago. “I was absolutely taken aback, genuinely shocked by . . . the level of malice and ill will directed at me. Until you’ve experienced it yourself, you can’t begin to appreciate how it feels.” With two children and a wife, Gabbie, who shares his passion for music and plays accordion in the band, “I feel a lot happier with myself, happier in my own skin.” He left the teaching profession shortly after 28 Up, studied law and joined the civil service. “I don’t think really life is there to be regretted,” he says. “Life is there to be lived.”

Nick, who went from farm boy to Oxford University student, to nuclear-fusion researcher, to teacher of electrical engineering, and Suzy, who was one of the more privileged children and who became a homemaker, interview each other and debate the effects of the film. Says Suzy, “The problem I have is that you don’t get a very rounded picture, you get the odd comment.” She vowed at age 49 that she would bow out of the series, yet, she laughs, “I suppose I have this ridiculous sense of loyalty to it.” Adds Nick: “They film me doing all this daft stuff and it’s seven days out of every seven years . . . it’s all this excitement . . . and then they present this tiny little snippet and it’s like, ‘Is that all there is to me?'” Yet Nick, who lives in the United States with his second wife, Cryss, also presents the most spirited defense of the series, saying, “The idea of looking at a bunch of people over time and how they evolve was a really nifty idea. It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”

Sue, who spent her middle years as a working, single mom, is in a long-term relationship, has happy children and has advanced to the top of the administrative department of the School of Law at Queen Mary, University of London, even though she never went to college. Paul, who lived in a children’s home as a 7-year-old, emigrated to Australia in his early teens and is happily married with five grandchildren; he’s proud that his daughter, Katy, is the first member of his family to go to university.

Symon lived in the same children’s home as Paul. The only child of a single mother who died at age 35, he is biracial. He’s survived a divorce and has a difficult relationship with his five children from the union. 56 Up finds him working in a warehouse and living happily with his second wife, Vienetta, and his 18-year-old son. Symon and Vienetta have an incredibly busy life, which includes fostering children and teens, who express their profound gratitude in 56 Up. If Symon has one regret, it’s that he didn’t push himself academically, but his wife’s drive makes up for his laid-back personality.

The Up series has followed Jackie through marriage, divorce and childbirths. In 56 Up, she tells viewers about the family deaths she has endured–her sister, ex-husband, mother-in-law, stepmother and brother-in-law–as well as government cuts to her disability benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. Yet the birth of her first grandchild brings hope and joy, and she has even dipped a toe into Internet dating. Despite all her troubles, she sees herself as an optimist. “My glass is always half full, never half empty. That’s the way it will continue to be, I hope.”

Lynn, Jackie’s schoolmate, was the 7-year-old who wanted to work in Woolworth’s. Instead she was a children’s librarian for more than 30 years. Happily married, she has a growing family of grandchildren but recently lost her job due to budget cuts. Then the financial crisis hit, and one of her grandchildren was born prematurely. “What I thought was stress was nothing,” she says. But her husband of 37 years “is still my soul mate. We’ve just grown together.”

Andrew and John, along with Charles (who stopped appearing after 28 Up), were attending a pre-preparatory school in Kensington in Seven Up!, and they exhibited almost comically upper-crust attitudes. “I read the Financial Times,” the 7-year old Andrew declared, while little John chimed in, “We think I’m going to Cambridge and Trinity Hall.” Andrew married, had two sons and became a partner at a firm of solicitors. John studied at Oxford and became a barrister. He married Claire, and the two have spearheaded environmental projects in England and charitable work in Bulgaria, which he finds more satisfying than “winning some fantastic case on some ludicrous, arcane point of law.” In 56 Up, John explains that he missed a couple of films because he felt the depiction of him as privileged was a misrepresentation. “What viewers were never told was that my father died when I was 9, leaving my mother in very uncomfortable financial circumstances . . . and that I got a scholarship to Oxford.”

Bruce, as a boy attending private school, wanted to be a missionary in Africa. Instead, he graduated from Oxford, and at 35 took a sabbatical to teach in Bangladesh. Over the years, he longed for a spouse. In 42 Up, Bruce revealed he had met a fellow teacher, Penny, while working in London’s East End, and had tied the knot. In 56 Up, they are still married and have two sons who attend a Quaker school.

About the Filmmaker:

Michael Apted, Director/Producer
Since the 1960s, Michael Apted has helmed an extensive list of feature films and documentaries. His feature films include Gorillas in the Mist, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorky Park, Thunderheart, Nell, The World Is Not Enough, Enigma, Enough, Amazing Grace and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third installment in a series of films based on C.S. Lewis’ books. His most recent film, Chasing Mavericks, for Walden Media and Twentieth Century Fox, tells the true story of Jay Moriarity, the youngest person to surf Mavericks, a famous giant wave in Northern California.

Apted’s documentary credits include the Boris Grebenshikov film The Long Way Home, Incident at Oglala, Bring on the Night, Moving the Mountain, Me & Isaac Newton and his recent soccer film The Power of the Game. He also directed the official 2006 World Cup Film. But among Apted’s most widely recognized documentary directorial achievements are his internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning sequels based on the original Seven Up! documentary: 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up and the recent 56 Up, which aired on ITV in the United Kingdom and was released theatrically in the United States to much acclaim. The films have followed the lives of 14 Britons since the age of 7 in seven-year increments.

In addition to his documentary and feature work, Apted has worked extensively in television, including directing the first three episodes of HBO’s epic series Rome. Most recently, he directed two episodes of Showtime’s new series Masters of Sex, and the season finale of another new Showtime series, Ray Donovan.

Apted was born in England in 1941 and studied law and history at Cambridge University. He has received numerous awards and nominations for his extensive body of work, including a Grammy, British Academy Awards, a DGA Award and the International Documentary Association’s highest honor, the IDA Career Achievement Award. By the order of Queen Elizabeth II, Apted was made a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his work in the film and television industries.

Apted joined the Directors Guild of America in 1978, was elected to the Western Directors Council in 1997 and became the fifth vice president of the organization’s national board in 2002. He was elected president at the DGA biennial convention in June 2003. He served three terms as president of the Guild, which he concluded in July 2009. He has served as secretary-treasurer since 2011. He is also a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Directors: Michael Apted, Paul Almond
Producers: Michael Apted, Claire Lewis
Editor: Kim Horton
Executive Producer: Alexander Gardiner
Production Executive: Karen Stockton
Director of Photography: George Jesse Turner

Running Time: 146:46

POV Series Credits:

Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry
Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López
Vice President, Programming and Production: Chris White
Coordinating Producer: Andrew Catauro



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