Amazing how quickly seven years can go by. Time plays the starring role yet again in “63 Up,” the latest installment of Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary series, which began with 14 wriggly 7-year-olds interviewed about their hopes, their dreams and their worries for a 1964 British television documentary. Apted, then a 22-year-old researcher, was fascinated by the project and continued it, checking in with the original subjects every seven years, letting us watch them grow and age. Each film incorporates the quote “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.”
Apted, now 79, has rounded up 11 of the original crew (two declined to participate, one has died) to share their 63-year-old lives with his cameras, which they do with remarkably good grace. (One appealing byproduct of such longevity: the subjects’ ease with “Michael,” who they address as an old friend.) Most have made rueful peace with the fact that no personal accomplishment will come close to giving them the fame that this series has, and grudgingly admit the impact of it. “It’s a lifelong achievement to be part of this program,” says Sue; Nick describes it as “a picture of everyman.”
Perhaps he’s not quite right about that; while diverse in social class, Apted’s group is overwhelmingly white (all but Symon) and male (10 of the original 14) — not surprising for a project that began in 1964. But there is a touching universality to these life stories, which at this point have a lulling near-sameness: grown children, long careers, lasting passions and friendships (Paul’s and Symon’s is particularly touching), a looming shadow of illness, the nearness of twilight. And yes, you can see in these reflective 63-year-olds a spark of those 7-year-olds, for better or worse. As Tony’s wife tells Apted, “He is what he is.”
★★★½ “63 Up,” a documentary directed by Michael Apted. 138 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. Opens Feb. 21 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.