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IDFA 2020: 100UP

21 November 2020

Keep on keepin' on                                                                     100UP by Heddy Honigmann

What keeps you going when you're 100 years old? That's one of the questions Heddy Honigmann asks in her remarkable new film 100UP (world premiering in IDFA Competition for Dutch Documentary). For some of her subjects, it's a simple yearning for company and human interaction. For others, it might be curiosity about what tomorrow holds or a work ethic refined over a lifetime, or maybe just the desire to go for a morning swim.

In Honigmann's work, the main preoccupation is always the people who are telling their stories on camera. Whether she is making documentaries about taxi drivers in Lima, travelling musicians or dog owners, her fascination and affection for her subjects is always obvious. "It's the way they laugh, the silences," the director explains of the respect she shows to these subjects.

The protagonists of 100UP, supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, are all very different from one another. There's the New York sex therapist who explains that sexuality, like appetite, lasts a lifetime. There's the doctor in South America who still goes to the hospital to work every day. There is the jazz drummer who loves her music.

"For me, the most important part of making the film is research," Honigmann says of the painstaking work done to track down the right subjects for the film. "The basis of everything lies there."

It goes without saying that the subjects in 100UP are close to death. "Myself, I was surprised when I asked what makes you get up in the morning, what is the power that makes you think this day will be good," Honigmann says of the relentless optimism her subjects showed.

Asked if he is happy to be alive, Professor Irwin Corey responds immediately, as if it is a silly question. "Ah, yes, life is an amazing phenomenon...human life is a speck on the mosaic of life, and life is a miracle."

All of the subjects had an irrepressible will to continue living. One, a psychologist, told her she stayed alive because she liked going to the cafe to speak to people. "I didn't expect such a soft, normal answer," Honigmann reflects on the response. The psychologist didn't talk about literature or philosophy but about normal life. "Suddenly, after retiring, she had the time to do something she couldn't do while working - that's speaking with normal people, not people who had an illness or came to her for help."

The one characteristic that all the subjects shared was that they loved their work. If they weren't able to work, they found ways to avoid isolation. These might be simple ruses like meeting people in lifts so they could have a short chat while going downstairs. The little chats could lead to longer conversations and, sometimes, to new friendships. "They are looking for other people or for something to do," Honigmann says of the way her subjects continually find ways of escaping loneliness.

Inevitably, the title of Honigmann's film will remind viewers of Michael Apted's famous series of documentaries starting with Seven Up! (1964) in which he followed his subjects at seven-year intervals throughout their lives. "At a certain point, I had different titles," Honigmann acknowledges, but she and her producers eventually agreed that 100UP worked - and that it would make sense for distributors.

Now, having made a film about very old people, Honigmann would like to turn her eye to youngsters. She is thinking about making a film exploring what love means to young people. "The idea is to speak to young people but in a special way...it could be very clichéd but I will try from this clichéd point of view to go somewhere else [with the film]. There must be something behind this cliché!"

Honigmann also hopes to make a documentary about her father. "My father was in a concentration camp in Mauthausen. He suffered all his life from a terrible will to control the lives of the people around him," the director observes. "Later on, I understood it was to protect us."

Reading Primo Levi's memoir 'If This Is A Man', about Levi's time in Auschwitz, gave her insight into her father's state of mind. There is a passage describing the narrator's reluctance to wash himself in water that is freezing. "He touches the water and decides not to wash, but another colleague, who has been long in the camp, tells him do it, wash yourself, otherwise you won't survive,'" Honigmann recalls. "It was a big lesson for Levi."

Her father told her similar stories about how he managed to stay alive. "The stories of my father and of this book make me think about the pasts of these people."

There is a parallel here with the long living subjects of 100UP. The secret in both cases, Honigmann suggests, is being able "to enjoy the most banal things liking drinking coffee with your friends...or having a little swim."

For further reading: 
-> SEE NL Magazine Online, November 2020 / IDFA Doc issue 
-> Line-Up Dutch Docs At IDFA 2020 
-> Watch: Showreel Dutch Documentaries IDFA 2020

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