Did 'Babies' Filmmakers Break the Law?Madeline Holler
The buzzy movie of the week has to be “Babies,” a documentary that follows four newborns — each from a different culture — into their first year of life. The film uses no voice overs or subtitles. Instead, the audience gets to watch each of the kids within the context of their own culture and countries: Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and the U.S.
French filmmaker Thomas Balmes’ 80-minute movie is the product of some 400 hours of video, most of which includes one of the four babies in front of the camera. That’s an average of 100 hours of work for each child, and some are starting to ask whether Balmes broke the law.
Especially in filming the American subject, Hattie in San Francisco.
Under California child labor laws, a doctor’s note and legal permits are required for a child to work on a film. According to USA Today, they’re also only allowed 20 minutes in front of the camera per day and must be accompanied by both a nurse and a studio teacher (paid for by the producers). Minimum age? Fifteen days old.
“Babies” producer Amandine Billot says their subject was exempt from this regulation, since the filming was merely observation — unobtrusive and in their natural environments.
If someone files a complaint — so far, no one has — producers could be fined between $50 and $5,000 per violation.
Focus Features CEO James Schamus defends the film and filmmaker saying both the letter and spirit of the law were upheld in the making of “Babies.”
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