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Remembering Director Michael Apted

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Imagine spending most of your life on one creative project.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 1963, filmmaker Michael Apted started working on a black-and-white British documentary about a group of 7-year-old school kids. "Seven Up!" was inspired by an old Jesuit saying.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SEVEN UP!")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Give me a child until he is 7. And I will give you the man.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: More than 50 years later, Michael Apted was still following these, well, no longer children in an epic, longitudinal project known as the "Up" series. Every seven years, his team has made a new documentary following this group. Michael Apted died Thursday in Los Angeles at the age of 79. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Michael Apted's expansive vision ranged from "Seven Up!" to 007.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) James.

ULABY: He made a James Bond movie, "The World Is Not Enough," and dramas like "Gorky Park," "Gorillas In The Mist" and "Coal Miner's Daughter" that earned a best actress Oscar for star Sissy Spacek. But Apted's favorite child was the "Up" series, which found a massive international following.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MICHAEL APTED: What can I say? I mean, it's the favorite thing I've ever done, the thing I'm most proud of.

ULABY: Apted on WHYY's Fresh Air in 2013. The series was supposed to explore British class inequality through children, from posh to poor to working-class kids like 7-year-old Tony.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SEVEN UP!")

TONY: I want to be a jockey when I grow up. Yeah. I want to be a jockey when I grow up.

ULABY: But the "Up" series became something more. Over nine installments, the kids grew up, married, experienced homelessness, became lawyers, teachers, grandparents. Nearly all stuck with the series.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

APTED: You know, it's like a sort of great Victorian novel. You know, the people move half an inch a year. You know, it's the heroism of ordinary life.

ULABY: Apted was promoting "56 Up" in 2013 when he was interviewed on WNYC's "On The Media" along with Tony, the erstwhile kid who wanted to be a jockey. Host Brooke Gladstone asked how long Apted expected the series to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

APTED: Well, I know what I hope. I hope to do 84 Up when I'll be 99.

(LAUGHTER)

APTED: And then we'll call it quits.

TONY: We'll be both going down to the post office, Michael, drawing our pension books together then.

APTED: I'm already doing that.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: The "Up" series has drawn criticism over its gender representation and the very class issues it intended to expose. But Apted, an upper-middle class kid himself, listened. He included his subjects' criticism in the story they ultimately shared. Apted has said producer Claire Lewis may be his heir. If 70 Up comes out in 2026, it'll be the project of a lifetime that honours its creator through living. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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