Director Thomas Balmes spent nearly two years traveling the globe to capture the early lives of Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Japan and Hattie from the United States. The idea, he says, came to him five years ago from a French producer. "[He said], 'Why don't we do a wildlife documentary on babies?' Well, I said, 'What is this crazy idea?' And then the more I was thinking about it, the more I thought there could be something done about it."
Thomas says one of the best things about the film is that the cooing of babies is a universal language. "The other day, I had a 15-year-old Chinese woman come up to me [and say], 'This is the very first time I'm going to bring my grandmother, who doesn't speak a word of English, to the movie theater,'" he says. "Anyone can watch it because there is not a single dialogue, not a single narration. You are, for 80 minutes, only with the babies and their perspective. You see the world through their eyes, and you almost have no adult in the scene."
Oprah says the film changed her perspective of which nations provide the ideal lifestyle early in life. "When I first watched it I thought, 'Gosh, I want to be Hattie, in that little jumping-up-and-down thing and going to yoga class,'" she says. "And by the end, I thought the African baby out in the wilderness being free had a lot of advantages."
In one scene, Bayarjargal from Mongolia is alone, surrounded by cows. Oprah says she couldn't believe that no one intervened. "I'm thinking, 'Well, is somebody going to stop the cow?' I couldn't believe it!"
Thomas says he made very clear to the parents that he was a filmmaker not a babysitter. "I was enjoying the moment knowing I had a great piece of cinema. I was not [worried] because the mother was not very far away. She was fine. If she was cool, I was cool," he says. "I almost never interfered. If something crazy would ever happen, I would have." Thomas says there were no safety problems during the filming because the babies surrounded by animals grew up living with them.
Thomas also purposely chose four families who live extremely differently. "I wanted [the Namibian family] to be totally disconnected from everything we know and that we consider as wealth and comfort and just to see that they could be happy and grow in a beautiful way," he says. "I was looking for a full level of technology relationship from the science-fiction atmosphere of Tokyo, which is where I think we will be in 50 years."
Susie, Hattie's mother, says she was moved by the similarities between mothers all around the world. "If only we had the acres and acres and Hattie could just be running free right now," she says. "That's one of the things that made me kind of wistful for an opportunity in some ways to live like that, but also recognizing we all do what we can in our circumstances to make the most to love our kids."
Thomas says this movie is just the beginning. "It's a starting point to thinking and just reading books about different cultures, taking a plane ticket and going to Namibia and just understanding that there is not one way of doing things, but there are many ways," she says. "It's so interesting to see what other people do, and I think we can learn from that."