Coming up with Seven Up

While the Up documentary series has attained legendary status, most are unaware that the film series began as the brainstorm of a Montreal filmmaker. The films have captivated audiences and critics alike as they revisit the same group of 14 Britons at seven-year intervals.

It was 1964 when Paul Almond co-conceived, wrote and directed Seven Up for British TV (with Michael Apted). In Montreal to present a special screening of the documentary, Almond confirms that a big part of the inspiration for the first film was Britain’s class divide.

“There was a labor government in power and there was a lot of talk of taxing the rich and leveling the playing field,” recalls Almond, now 80. “But I was a Canadian, and my producer, Tim Hewitt, was Australian, and as outsiders, we could see the class system had an extremely strong hold on British culture and society.”

Almond says Hewitt remembered the old Jesuit maxim, ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.’ So, they set about finding “a group of seven-year-olds from both sides of the class divide and explore what their attitudes were.”

The results were fascinating, often poignant and sometimes just disturbing. One young girl said she wasn’t interested in meeting any black people. And when one poor orphan is asked about going to university, he responds, “What’s that?”

Almond confirms that his Canadian background did play a key role in the distinct style of Seven Up.

“I asked the cameraman to take the camera off the tripod and to follow the kids around in the playground. I liked the idea of shooting it from the children’s perspective. That was something I’d picked up while watching NFB documentaries and CBC, which had already been using hand-held camera techniques.”

Almond went on to make a number of narrative films (including Isabel) with his first wife, Genevieve Bujold (the two have since split but remain close friends). Now retired from filmmaking, he has just written his first novel, The Deserter (McArthur & Co.), the first in an eight-book series. Like thousands of diehard fans, Almond continues to follow the Up series.

“It always strikes me how incredible those kids were. And their lives have evolved in fascinating ways. It’s one of the most famous and enduring documentaries that has ever been put on film.”

Paul Almond will present Seven Up at 2 p.m. on November 17 at Montreal’s Cinéma du Parc, and will take audience questions after the screening.