In his previous film, 51 Birch Street, one of the most highly-praised personal documentaries of recent years, Doug Block took a hard look at his parents’ marriage and his own relationship with his father. With The Kids Grow Up, his latest project, the filmmaker turns in the other direction, offering a moving film about his relationship with his only child, Lucy.
Filmed by her father from the moment of her birth, Lucy at age 17 is just months away from leaving home for college. Moving fluidly between past, present, and the fast-approaching future, Block uses a lifetime of footage to craft not only a loving portrait of a girl transitioning into womanhood, but also a candid look at modern-day parenting, marriage, and what it means to let go.
Doug Block (Director/Producer/Camera) is a New York-based filmmaker whose work includes some of the most acclaimed feature documentaries of the past two decades.
Doug’s recent film, 51 Birch Street, was named one of the 10 Best Films of the Year by The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times and The Ebert & Roeper Show, and was selected as one of the outstanding documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review, the Boston Society of Film Critics and Rolling Stone Magazine. The film garnered numerous awards, including Best Overall Program at the 2008 Banff Television Awards.
Doug’s first film, The Heck With Hollywood!, screened at leading international film festivals before being released theatrically in the United States by Original Cinema. The Heck With Hollywood! was broadcast internationally and on PBS and Bravo in the United States. His second feature was the Emmy-nominated film Home Page, a look at the early days of online culture. Called “groundbreaking” by Roger Ebert, the film screened at the Sundance and Rotterdam Festivals and was broadcast on HBO, IFC and in Europe after a theatrical release.
Doug's credits as producer and cameraman include: Silverlake Life (Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Peabody, Prix Italia), Jupiter’s Wife (Sundance Special Jury Award, Emmy), A Perfect Candidate, Love & Diane (Independent Spirit Award), Paternal Instinct (Best Feature Film – NY Gay & Lesbian Film Festival) and A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory (top doc prizes at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals). He is currently producing Amy Hardie’s Dangerous Dreams, a co-production with Channel Four, ZDF/Arte, VPRO and Scottish Screen.
NEW YORK CITY: Angelika Film Center – begins October 29 (theatrical premiere)
LOS ANGELES: Laemmle Sunset 5 – begins November 12
More cities nationwide to follow.
Interview with Doug Block - Director/Producer/Camera
By Sam Colon for telegraph21
t21: This is clearly a very personal film, like your previous film 51 Birch Street. What attracts you to the subject of family, and in particular, your family?
DB: I certainly never saw myself making a career making films about my family and certainly never foresaw the kind of success I'd have doing it. 51 Birch Street kind of came out of nowhere. I had no intention of ever making a film about my parents until all these very strange things happened, all at once, seeminlgy. My mother died out of the blue. My father within months was living down Florida with a former secretary. They married, sold the family house, I discovered all these diaries of my mother's. You know the whole Pandora's box opened up on their marriage. I didn't start shooting that as a film until literally it was two weeks until my father moved. Then it just kind of exploded.
The Kids Grow Up was a film I had in mind for a long time about my daughter, but I wasn't actively shooting a film. And then one day I woke up and Lucy was about to go into her senior year of high school and I went, "Oh my God." In a year she's gone and we'll be dropping her off, saying goodbye, coming back into an empty apartment. And where did it all go, where did the time go? And what was that all about? I realized, "Oh, I see what this film is now, it's about what happens to every parent, which is you get to that point where you let them go and nobody prepares you for that."
t21: Did you think you documenting Lucy would make a film?
DB: I think these personal films have to have something going on storywise that makes it a universal story, something bigger than just the story of this one family. With 51 Birch Street, it's this idea that, you know, you think you know who your parents are but you have no idea. And then if you have the opportunity,would you really want to know?
WithThe Kids Grow Up ,it was more like the idea that we bring kids up only to have to let them go.
t21: How did your feelings about documenting Lucy evolve as she grew older?
DB: She loved being documented for the longest time and then she turned into a teenager and didn't like it so much any more. It was actually a bit of a surprise for me that she was okay about letting me shoot this as a film her senior year.
They [my family] never hesitate to tell me when they're tired of it and then I put the camera down. But when they allow me to do it, they kind of forget that I 'm there with the camera, and they're really able to be unself-conscious about what they're doing. So I always feel like I'm grabbing some very intimate moments.
My family knows that I make these films that go into theaters. But when I'm shooting I don't think they really make that mental connection between my little camcorder and the big screen out there. I think it is still a bit of a shock to them when it actually does get finished and we're about to show it publicly and they go , oh right, yeah, now there's this stage.
t21: Has Lucy seen the film? If so, what was her reaction to it?
DB: She has to be the first to see it at every stage. I had to know that the film wasn't going to ruin her life. So at Christmas time her freshman year she came back and I showed her thirty minutes that were pretty representative. I didn't want her to be surprised later. And that's when I had her sign a release form and give her final stamp of approval.
I was willing to shelve the film. If she had reacted and said, "Dad, I had no idea how invasive this was, and this is going to really ruin things," I was all prepared to not make the film. It was hard for her to see some of the stuff there; it is pretty revealing. I'm not sure she realized how revealing it was.
She didn't see the finished film for the longest time because she was away last year-she spent her junior year abroad in Buenos Aires. So now she speaks Spanish fluently and has a boyfriend named Juan. She saw it for the first time with an audience at the Silver Docs Festival in May in Washington. She survived.
t21: What do you hope people take away from the film?
DB: It's not a message movie, it's not a social issue film. But I'd like people to appreciate their kids (if they have them) and appreciate their parents. Grab a camera and shoot some video. Your kids do grow up so quickly.
I make these films because I really do like to tell stories. And it's just kind of come about that my family has been the fodder for my subject matter and the material that I'm working with. That's because of a series of happy accidents, and they put up with me and let me do it. And I just went as far with it as I could, as they would allow me to.
There is one side issue that kind of came up again accidentally with The Kids Grow Up, which is that it does depict my wife battling through an episode of clinical depression in the middle of the year. That's had this funny side effect-we now have a film that actually is a really powerful tool for de-stigmatizing depression. It's not a film about depression in any way, shape, or form. In the middle of the story of a dad dealing with his daughter leaving home, the mom suddenly gets depressed. She has to take a leave from her job, changes her medication, ultimately gets better and recovers. By the end of the film, she's not only functioning well, but she's probably the most together person in the whole film. So it's a good message for a film that isn't a message movie.
I feel like I made a social issue film but I had not intention of doing that. But, I'm very proud of the fact that it may be helpful to a lot of people. Because you know, it has nothing to do with depression. It's sort of like a sucker punch.
t21: If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?
DB: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was sixteen, when I saw Citizen Kane for the first time. I don't think I ever considered anything else that I would want to do. I can't even fathom the idea of what I would be if I weren't a filmmaker. I don't know, maybe run a summer camp.
t21: What is one of your favorite documentary films?
DB: Sherman's March, by Ross McElwee.
I grew up thinking documentaries were the most boring films ever. I just wanted to make fiction films. It was the first documentary that made me realize it could be every bit as entertaining and funny and director-driven as fiction films.
And it was very personal. The filmmaker shot it and was the personality behind the camera. And given that I was a cameraman at the time, that was very influential to me, the idea that I could be shooting my own films and interacting with my subjects from behind the camera and that was a very interesting vantage point to be observing from.
DB: I'm making another personal film about long-term marriage, kind of based on the idea that I've been supplementing my documentary income in the last fifteen years or so by shooting wedding films. I probably shot about 120 weddings at this point.
Nothing makes you think more about why do people stay married when you suddenly have an empty nest. And I thought that's a really good leaping off point for going back to some of my favorite couples over those past fifteen years and seeing how their marriages are doing.
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http://t.co/lN27acj opening this FRIDAY at the Angelika Theater, NYC: Don't miss this poignant tale of modern parenthood: The Kids Grow Up