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Paul Almond, circa 1966
Paul Almond, circa 1966

Movies

Meet the Montreal director behind the documentary '7 Up' Add to ...

Fans of the Up series - which documents the lives of a group of Britons every seven years - tend to associate the critically acclaimed films with British director Michael Apted. But the first entry in the series, 7 Up, was directed by Montreal filmmaker Paul Almond.

Now almost 80, Almond has retired from filmmaking. And subsequent sequels and box sets of the films don't mention his involvement. But he still feels a close association with the project he kick-started in the early 1960s, when he and Australian producer Tim Hewat decided that interviewing a group of seven-year-olds would reflect something about Britain's obsession with class distinctions. This week, he'll introduce a special screening of the first film in Montreal.

The Globe spoke to Almond - now living in Malibu, Calif., and writing fiction - about making the landmark series, keeping in touch with those "kids" (now in their 50s) and which subjects he still can't forget.

What runs through your mind now as you watch the first film?

When I watch 7 Up, although I haven't seen the children for close to 50 years, I still have enormous affection for them all.

What strikes you most about how the series has evolved?

I was very sorry that some [of the kids]had dropped out, and then pleased that some had dropped back in again.

I would never for a second criticize the absolutely monumental work that Mike Apted has done, but he is British, and that means he has a different sense of class than I have. When he was working on the film as an assistant, he had different perceptions and looked at it all quite differently. I, being Canadian, think of everyone as being the same, and I can observe differences with charity and even affection. Coming from a particular strata of British society - and I don't claim to know what strata that is - he's very clearly embedded, that gives him a different take.

Therefore, it might not be too much of a stretch to say that some of the dropouts might be due to his personality. But then again, he's been so successful in keeping all the rest together.

Is there a single story that stands out for you?

The one child who astonished me most when he grew up was Neil. He was by far the smartest and liveliest of them all at seven. I thought he would go anywhere. He wanted to become an astronaut. And there he was, homeless! But now, he's on some city council, and doing well for himself. Most of the others followed the course that could have been predicted when they were seven.

Do you stay in touch with any of the children you chose 46 years ago?

I wrote to all the kids through the British producer a year or two ago, begging them to continue with the series, because I think it's marvellous. Well, not one replied [except Tony]

The only one I keep in touch with is Tony, the taxi driver, who has been loyal and faithful through the years. I guess he's the only one who recognized my contribution in creating and shooting and editing the first one in the way that made it special. So Tony and I are in touch by e-mail, and when a new episode comes out, Tony sends me the press clippings - in which I continue to see no mention of my name anywhere.

I think it's rather a shame most of them haven't stayed in touch with me.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

7 Up will screen Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Cinéma du Parc in Montreal. Almond will present the film and stay to answer questions.

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