The idea for the project evolved out of documentary film work in one of the economically impoverished, violent hot-spots of South Africa’s 2008 xenophobic violence, during which over 60 people were killed. As a filmmaker, interviewing both perpetrators and protectors, Andy Spitz wondered what made the significant differences between people brought up and living in similarly deprived and dehumanising environments. Who chooses to pick up a panga (machete) to kill a “foreigner”? Who chooses to put their own life on the line to protect that “foreigner”?
In a country (and increasingly a world) where violence is so often the first response, Andy wondered about the root causes and if there was a way in which she, as a filmmaker, could contribute towards a more empathic society.
It might seem overly simple to suggest that the quality of our initial relationship as an infant with our parent or primary caregiver sets the foundations for the type of person we become in later life. However, simply put, this is true - and if our first relationship is good enough we feel securely attached to another person and can learn to trust and love.
When we learn that we are valuable in someone else’s eyes and mind, we can emerge into childhood and adulthood as human beings who are able to relate to and empathise with others – even as we journey through our own inevitable struggles.
In Becoming: Three Infants Observed, Banele, Leago, and Sofia are born into three very different families. We watch the developing relationship between infant and caregiver as their shared communication evolves over their first year of life – creating bonds that will hopefully ensure not only the infant’s survival but the health of his/her future relationships.
The footage, captured weekly over this period, is intended for use in South Africa for training of various professionals and lay practitioners. Critically, it is also intended for screening in hospitals and antenatal clinics visited by expectant mothers and caregivers across the country. In rural communities, without such infrastructure, it is hoped that clips will be screened and discussed in caregiver groups with trained facilitators.
Internationally, the infant observation clips are intended for academic research and teaching as well as training of professionals and practitioners in a wide range of disciplines in the sciences and humanities. Paid subscription to the clips is intended to cross-subsidise the roll-out in South Africa and other non-OECD countries.
3 volunteer families were recruited through extended personal networks. The participant families had just given, or were about to give, birth. The nature of the project was explained (including the purpose of filming for local and international academic research as well as training of professionals and lay practitioners). In addition parents were informed that clips could be shown in hospitals and antenatal clinics in urban and rural environments. Participants signed consent to this use. Parental permission was granted on behalf of parents and their children. Other caregivers signed their own consent forms. Parents of any visiting children also gave signed consent.
Filming took place almost weekly, at a specified time, over the period of 1 year. All filming was done by Andy Spitz alone, to facilitate an intimate and relatively unobtrusive process. It was agreed that the filmmaker would observe and not initiate engagement, but would respond if appropriate. The filmmaker was also understood to play no caregiver or babysitting role.
Each individual family received, as per the contract, a copy of all their unedited footage, on an external hard drive, once filming was complete. It was also contractually agreed that the families would receive an equal portion of 40% of any profits accrued after production expenses would be covered. After the filming a small token payment was made in recognition of the generosity with which access was given.