“Babies” documentary presents infants’ maturation as a multinational wildlife feature

Hattie, who lives in the United States with her family, is one of four babies followed from birth to first steps in Thomas Balms' BABIES, a Focus Features release. Photo credit: Focus Features

A challenge for many filmmakers, especially those creating documentaries, is often catching action unfold from the very beginning. With this in mind, “Babies” earns its tagline, “The adventure of a lifetime begins.”

Directed by French filmmaker Thomas Balmès, “Babies” follows the first two years of four children from around the world: Ponijao, who lives near Opuwo, Namibia in Africa; Bayar from Mongolia; Mari from Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie from San Francisco, Calif.

The undertaking of this feature proved to be a challenge for Balmès who shot the majority of the film himself in 400 days over a span of two years.

“Making this movie was like running a marathon,” said Balmès in a phone interview. “It took three years of my life. I spent more time with these kids than with my own kids.”

Balmès began working on the film in 2005 when he heard of producer Alain Chabat’s idea for a big screen documentary on babies growing up. His vision was to present human babies as a wildlife feature. There would be no commentary; the babies’ development would be set solely to music.

“This idea is compelling because it allows for the simultaneous observation of four different cultures,” said School of Communication Dean Sam Grogg. “Because there is no narration, it translates to anyone that watches it and that can be very illuminating.”

According to Balmès, 90% of the film was also shot on a tripod. He used this technique to let reality materialize before the camera without him or his crew getting in the way of the natural development of the babies. This also meant limiting the appearance of the babies’ parents.

“Everything is shot at the level of the babies so we see the world from their eyes. By doing that I felt that this kind of closeness to the babies allowed you to learn different things and really dive into their worlds,” Balmès said.

Distance was a very important aspect in the making of this film. While to Balmès distance meant not creating too great of an intrusion on the babies or their families, he also used the idea of distance when choosing children from four very different cultures. His goal was to create a universal story that viewers could interpret without an initial agenda.

In the end, making this movie was about seeing the babies grow and experience the world around them, which was often a comical and educational experience.

“Making this movie challenged my belief in whether or not I give the best life to my kids, and that is what I am trying to challenge in my viewers,” Balmès said.



Limited Release Date: May 7

Directed by: Thomas Balmès

Rating: PG for cultural and maternal nudity

Running Time: 1 hr. 19 min.