Every seven years, starting in 1990, director Sergei Miroshnichenko has visited 18 young children born in the Soviet Union and filmed their lives. The fourth installment of the documentary, Born in the USSR: 28 Up, takes place in 2011 when the subjects are 28 and will screen tonight at the 6th annual Russian Documentary Film Festival in New York.
The series is based on a similar set of documentaries following a group of 14 British boys and girls from 1963 to 2012. Director Michael Apted released 56 Up, the eighth installment, last year. "Of course, this is a daughter of Michael Apted’s project," Miroshnichenko told The New York Times in an article today. "But she has grown and gone a bit on her own path."
In the case of the Miroshnichenko's project, the children featured were born into a country, the USSR, that no longer exists, and disbanded the year the first installment was filmed. As time passed, several of the subjects moved to different countries for a number of reasons, both good and bad. One subject, Andrei, was orphaned as a child and adopted by an American family before the second installment in 1997. Today, that would be illegal, as Russia has banned Americans from adopting Russians.
That dedication to showing children of different means is possibly what made the 7 Up concept so popular. Besides the 7 Ups in Britain and Russia, there's a 7 Up in South Africa series and a 7 Up Japan series. France and Australia have similar projects that check in on groups of young people. In 1991 Michael Apted served as producer for Age 7 in America (the first version of the USSR series was Age 7 in the USSR), which featured kids from suburban Nebraska, Los Angeles and New York's Upper East Side, among other places, living in high rise apartments, middle class homes, housing projects and homeless shelters.
The children can also be prophetic. Anton, one of the USSR children and the grandson of one of the editors of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda, said in 1990 that there "There will probably be a coup," almost foreshadowing the 1991 coup attempt to overthrow President Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev resigned later that year and the Union dissolved the next day. Like Apted's series before it, Born in the USSR explores the lives of the children (now adults) but also the social and political climate. It's as much about how the children have grown as how the country has grown. In 28 Up Anton is now an apolitical editor at Russia's Men's Health, and goes car shopping at a Mercedes Benz dealership. "You must be able to adapt quickly if you want to reach the top," he said.
(Screenshots via Born in the USSR: 28 Up)