Moviegoers in China mourn death of filmmaker Michael Apted by reflecting on his ‘Up’ documentary series
Published: Jan 12, 2021 11:01 PM

Michael Apted file photo: VCG

Michael Apted, a prolific British filmmaker, passed away at the age of 79 in Los Angeles on Thursday.  

His agency confirmed his death without specifying the cause. The end of the director’s life implies another saddening fact; that his groundbreaking Up documentary series will no longer continue with his participation. 

The Up series is a long-running film project that has recorded 14 British peoples’ life experiences from the age of 7 to 63 across nine episodes. Co-produced by Paul Almond and Apted, the first episode Seven Up! (1964) explores how class divisions in British society set the tone for a child’s future even when they are at the same point in life. 

The main subjects of the first installment were 7-year-olds who reveal their dreams to the camera during interviews.

Though Almond as the lead director tended to depict the beauty of these children as different microcosms growing in one social sphere, the groundbreaking nature of the film was, however, created by researcher-turned-filmmaker Apted as he insisted on disclosing the brutality of life in which privileged children are born to have more while others have nothing. 

“It is a film of strong social nature. It started by pointing out the solidification of social classes in Britain quite explicitly. And the great thing about it is the film paid attention to people of different classes, that makes it an archives of society,” Shi Wenxue, a Chinese culture and film critic, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

After the first episode, Apted continued the franchise by filming new installments every seven years, capturing the changing lives of these former 7-year-olds, observing them at the life stages of child, teen, adult and middle age.

The most recent installment, maybe also the last, was aired in the UK in 2019 and saw Apted revisited his interviewees at the age of 63. 

The news about Apted’s death led fans in China to grieve the ingenious director on social media by reflecting on their much loved Up series. 

“Maybe it was the director’s research-like approach to the film or maybe it was its special theme, but I love this documentary. It makes me feel a kind of sincerity that is not loud and dramatic but touches audiences deeply because it is factual,” posted one netizen on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

“Though it talks about British society, but I see myself in the characters in Apted’s film. I guess that’s what a good documentary can bring, to allow you to see yourself,” wrote another. 

In addition to fans’ comments about how the film series made them feel, others appreciated Apted’s life-affirming work by reflecting on its artistry. 

“To me, it has social implications. It talks about time, and as time goes by there are changes and stories that happen naturally. Just like anthropological films focus on a particular group of people, some minority cultures disappear with the passage of time.

These types of films, definitely including this one, maybe can leave audiences with the impression that the film essentially is the art of time,” Li Ansiqi, an emerging Chinese documentary producer and director, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Born in 1941, Apted was one of the most versatile and prolific English film directors of his age. In addition to the heart-warming Up series, he has also helmed other pictures such as the biographical musical film Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) and the 1988 Gorillas in the Mist, which tells the story of primatologist Dian Fossey, who is known for her in-depth study of mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda.