Following the lives of Mandela’s children

28 November 2013 7:45 AM

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November 28 2013 at 09:39am

When you hear that a film such as Avatar or Life of Pi took a few years to make, it’s a big deal. Who wants to labour so long just to produce a 90-minute feature? It almost seems senseless, especially with the risk of failure. But with passion, time means little in film-making.

A good example of hard work and determination is Up South Africa, a show that follows selected South African children every seven years. The subjects talk about their hopes, the state of the country and what they are doing to change it.

They were first filmed when they were only seven years old and the show’s title was 7Up. We then caught up with them at age 14 and again at 21 in 21Up. Now we go back to them aged 28 in 28Up.

We caught up with the show’s director, Angus Gibson, who has been at the helm from the start.

“British 7Up is a flagship project for Granada Television in Britain. They have been doing it since 1964 and the last one they did was 56Up,” said Gibson.

“In 1992 they decided to do projects in America, Russia and South Africa. They decided to look for directors in the countries. I had already made some documentaries about South Africa and they liked my work. So they offered me the project,” he explained.

You might wonder why anyone would do a project like this, but Gibson feels it is good way to learn where South Africa is headed.

“It is based on the Jesuit saying: ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’. The long- term project tests the idea that your life path is already determined by the time you are seven,” he said.

But who wants to wait seven years to shoot the next episode of an on-going story? To stay motivated, Gibson explained that each film becomes a building block for the next one.

“It is an incredible way to track social change and in the case of South Africa, much has changed, but much has also remained the same. Those without a good education are mostly struggling. A few people have made the journey from the township to the suburbs, but on the whole people have remained in the kind of world we found them in at (the age of) seven,” he explained.

As you may have guessed, this is an ambitious project that must factor in realities such as illness and death. No one lives forever and sadly that is seen on this show.

“Three people died before age 21. In 21Up we told their stories. In 28Up we look at the life and death of another person who died when she was 25,” said Gibson.

As the UK has gone as far as 56 years of age with this project, Gibson is motivated to keep filming and not give up any time soon.

“We plan to go on as long as we can find the money and our subjects want to take part. It is a project little known in South Africa, but edu- cational institutions all over the world use these films and an extra-ordinary array of students have formed bonds with these charac- ters and are eager to know what is happening in their lives,” he said.

With technology rapidly chang- ing, this has also translated to the quality of the films.

“The first one was shot on 16mm film, the second two on Digi Betacam and 28Up on HD. You see the different textures of the different eras,” said Gibson.


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