The 10 top-grossing documentaries of all time include four Michael Moore firebombs, three nature docs with A-list narrators and three projects involving celebrities Al Gore, Madonna and Bill Maher.
“Babies” has none of these elements. But it does have babies, following infants in San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia and Namibia. Just five months after its Mother’s Day release in the U.S., “Babies” has already climbed to No. 17 on the list of top-20 docs, and it’s still premiering to favorable reviews throughout Asia and Europe.
“I was quite lucky to get the freedom to create this very unusual, nearly silent film that focused on the development of the babies,” says “Babies” maker Thomas Balmes, who credits the movie’s success to its crowdpleasing subject matter and Focus Features’ social-media marketing campaign that included a website to introduce the four little stars, screenings for mommybloggers and reliance on “the trailer as a viral phenomenon.”
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But in Balmes’ native France, where documentaries are as popular as fiction features, the response was positive but not overwhelmingly so.
“The French think documentaries should have a clear political message, make a statement,” he muses. “But I’m not a postman; I don’t have one message to deliver. I tried to use the babies to raise questions and deal with issues like globalization and cultural differences.”
The doc nearly included a French baby — Balmes’s own youngest son — but “my wife said absolutely not.”
After 400 days shooting on four continents over two years, Balmes wants to create another global documentary, this time with adults. “I feel like traveling, seeing other cultures and seeing how people the same age but in different situations live and behave.”