I Am Eleven

I AM ELEVEN. Documentary film directed by Genevieve Bailey. Rated G. 94 minutes.

A documentary about and featuring children, and, as guessed by the title, they are eleven. This is the age that the writer-director says was her favourite age, still an age of childhood (where many say they would love to stay) but an age on the verge of serious transition into adolescence. She tells us she wanted to make a documentary and children seemed the best subject. However, she did not confine herself to Australian children. Rather, she went to countries all over the world, fifteen in all, where she wanted to visit. She filmed many, many interviews, but has edited her material down to just over 90 minutes. More can be found on the film’s website.

The best-known documentaries on children’s development have tended to focus on a sample group – and to follow up after a number of years, then more follow-up. The most famous of these is Michael Apted’s beginning with Seven-up in the early 1960s, meeting the subjects after seven years, then another seven. By 2012, the series had arrived at 56-up, the participants still willing (varying over the years) and providing a portrait of British children through adolescence, adulthood into middle age.

Gillian Armstrong made a similar series with some girls from Adelaide, beginning in the 1980s with Smokes and Lollies. There were four films in the series.

Since this is Genevieve Bailey’s first film, we don’t know whether she will travel around the world to find the children again. She has made a second visit because, at the end of the film, the boys and girls are interviewed, some at 12 and some older – and reflecting on how they felt at eleven.

The selection is of boys and girls. There are some leading questions and issues raised which means, of course, we have the comparison of what children in India say compared with some children in England. There are some from Thailand, France, Czech Republic, the US.

Sometimes they sound ingenuous, at other times, more thoughtful and experienced than one would have anticipated. There is usually a huge spontaneity about their reactions both wry (the boy in London) or serious (the ecology preoccupied by in France). On the other hand, one girl has an ambition to make chocolates, and Indian girl speaks in self-giving mode wanting to be a doctor.

The editing makes for entertaining watching, the blend of close-up responses and interviews along with some detail of background life in a particular country, village life in India, with elephants in Thailand.

Obviously not a definitive work on eleven year olds but one that immerses the audience in their world, a reminded of the joys as well as the earnestness of being eleven – with life about to unfold before them.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Proud Mother Pictures

Out July 5 2012.

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