Remembering Michael Apted

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Anne-Katrin Titze on the much admired director

by Anne-Katrin Titze, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on Michael Apted: “I’ve shot my share of filmmakers, ranging from Orson Welles to Billy Wilder, François Truffaut, Jodie Foster, Ingmar Bergman, Amy Heckerling, Steven Spielberg and Darren Aronofsky, to name a random few. Apted fits into this list of names, with ease.”
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on Michael Apted: “I’ve shot my share of filmmakers, ranging from Orson Welles to Billy Wilder, François Truffaut, Jodie Foster, Ingmar Bergman, Amy Heckerling, Steven Spielberg and Darren Aronofsky, to name a random few. Apted fits into this list of names, with ease.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In 2019, Michael Apted and Martin Scorsese were honoured at the tenth edition of DOC NYC with Lifetime Achievement Visionary Tribute Awards. I first met Michael Apted (director of The World Is Not Enough; Gorillas In The Mist; Coal Miner's Daughter; Enigma; Gorky Park; Extreme Measures; Amazing Grace, and the Up series of documentaries) when I was invited up to BritBox for a conversation on his latest film 63 Up.

After receiving the news of Michael Apted’s passing on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at the age of 79, I reached out to photographer/director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and Lou Reed: Rock And Roll Heart) for a remembrance of the filmmaker. In November of 2019, Timothy wrote to me that he had recently photographed Michael after I mentioned that I would be doing a Q&A with the director following the opening night US theatrical premiere of 63 Up at Film Forum.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on his photo of Michael Apted: “His profile seemed to say so much about his innate grace and the enormous kindness that he possessed.”
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on his photo of Michael Apted: “His profile seemed to say so much about his innate grace and the enormous kindness that he possessed.” Photo: © 2019 Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Curious and quick on his feet, nothing escaped Michael Apted during our conversations. He was immensely present and his dry sense of humour kept me on my toes as well. He joked that if I didn’t behave with my questions, there’d be a trap door waiting for me, enjoyed my Virginia Woolf references to the structures of time in his work, and wanted a copy of the photo of me at age 7, that I had brought along to talk about the famous Jesuit axiom which begins each instalment of his Up series of documentaries.

At BritBox over coffee, I asked Michael who he was at seven. He replied “Who was I? Very quiet. I was the oldest of three children. Lived in a bungalow in Ilford in Essex, Redbridge, to be precise. Had a sister and a brother, and I was quite good at school. My father had gone to a good school in London, City of London School. So I got in when I was 11. That meant that I had to travel up to London every day of my school life, get on the tube, the Central Line, and go into central London to Blackfriars and get off there and go to school. And so I learned a lot about the world.”

Michael told me: “Whatever I've done, whether it's James Bond or whatever, I've always tried to be authentic about it. That's the residue of starting out doing documentaries. After Seven Up! was done, I went to Granada and said ‘I want to do Coronation Street.’”

Here is Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ tribute and his beautiful photograph of Michael Apted:

“Michael Apted, elegant, with drink in hand, caught my eye at the November 2019 Critic’s Choice Awards cocktail party. I introduced myself and asked if he was in New York long enough to sit for a portrait. Unfortunately, he was heading back to England the next day, but promised to see me upon his return. Fortunately, we shared the same press people and a date was arranged.

“Two days before Thanksgiving, we first sat in my kitchen for tea, before going downstairs to the studio for a few sheets of 8x10 film. We discussed the power of documentaries and I felt awed by his accomplishments and hard work.

“I’ve shot my share of filmmakers, ranging from Orson Welles to Billy Wilder, François Truffaut, Jodie Foster, Ingmar Bergman, Amy Heckerling, Steven Spielberg and Darren Aronofsky, to name a random few. Apted fits into this list of names, with ease.

“Apted was a pleasure to photograph. Unlike many others, Apted's years behind the camera seemed to give him an undeniable confidence in front of the lens. Perhaps, unlike many others, he was actually secure in his good looks.

“The great majority of my portraits are direct to camera, with eyes in sharp focus. I rarely shoot profiles, but Michael Apted’s was so remarkable and telling, that I broke my rule. His profile seemed to say so much about his innate grace and the enormous kindness that he possessed. I think his films are a reflection of his love and deep understanding of humanity.” - Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Michael Apted was a three-time BAFTA award-winner for 28 Up (1984), 35 Up (1991), and his episode Kisses at Fifty (#3.13) in Play for Today (1970). 63 Up was his last film. At the Critics Choice Documentary Awards in 2019, at BRIC in Brooklyn, Michael Apted received a Landmark Award for his Up series of TV documentaries.

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