Kindermusik Reviews: The Beginning of Life

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life is beautifully composed, feature-length documentary written and directed by Brazilian film maker Estela Renner. Traveling across the globe, from her native Brazil, Kenya, China, and a host of other locales, Renner takes the viewer on a rich journey into the world of the developing child. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Official Trailer for The Beginning of Life

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Renner and her crew interview researchers, educators, parents, grandparents, and children from a diverse background, culturally and economically. Most challenge the long standing idea that children are born as a blank slate – the tabula rosa. Dr. Alison Gopnik of the University of California turns the table on this notion:

One of the things that we know is that babies are the best learning machines in the universe. Even philosophers and psychologists and psychiatrists thought that babies were irrational; they were egocentric; they were amoral; they didn’t understand cause and effect; they couldn’t take the perspective of another person. And in the past 30 years our science has taught us that everything is exactly the opposite. Instead of thinking of them as blank slates, really their the best scientists and the best learners that we know of…

– Alison Gonik, PhD

Current work in the field of child development tells us children are born with a natural proclivity for research. They form what are best described as experiments to test the world around them. How will physical objects respond when dropped? If I do it again will the same result occur? How will my parent respond? They build understanding of their surroundings through constant collection and processing of data.

Renner stitches together images of children exploring their world through every sense. Sights, sounds, textures all become fodder for “guesses or hypotheses” about how everything around them works.[/vc_column_text][blockquote cite=”Alison Gopnik, PhD”]We often say toddlers have trouble paying attention. What we really mean is they have trouble not paying attention. [/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

A child enjoys playing with a piece of cloth in the wind.
A child enjoys playing with a piece of cloth in the wind.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As you watch this documentary, one can’t help but notice the diversity of the subjects of all types. Renner certainly spent a good deal of time in her home country, but she also made a very successful effort to include underrepresented populations and viewpoints from several cultures. The world somehow seems smaller after watching this film and we learn that the desire to compassionately care for children knows no borders.

One of the most touching segments involves a set of grandparents in China who help raise their granddaughter while her parents work. The grandfather sings to the little one in Mandarin as she leans against her grandmother. Pedro Lima’s score artfully accompanies his song. The grandfather states:

The happiest moment of my day is when my granddaughter calls me grandpa when she wakes up. And when we eat together and she asks me to hold her and to eat on my lap.

This plays into the expressed notion that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. One researcher tells us that children are raised by individuals, not institutions. It is the interactions children have with the people around them that help shape who they are and how they, in turn, interact with their world. The things that have the greatest impact cost nothing. Words…talking to babies, to toddlers…literally help the brain develop and helps them increase their understanding of life, and words are free.

beginning of life
Grandpa sings to his granddaughter.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life delivers its message – the importance of investing time in nurturing a child in the all-important initial years – with solid science and skillful direction, resulting in an elegant film, abundant in scientific information easily understood. As you bounce from English to French to Portuguese to Italian to Hindi to Spanish, it’s difficult to not draw a comparison to what it must be like for that infant taking in unknown sounds and working to understand what they mean. Is it possible this was intentional? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, it does remind us that no one country, no one culture has a monopoly on honest interest in seeing our most important resource cherished, loved, and provided for. We are truly in this together, and the opportunity this film affords all who watch it is a tremendous one. The opportunity to hear from Chinese grandparents and Kenyan orphanage workers and Indian children is invaluable.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Renner deftly weaves interviews with respected researchers, scientists, and even Raffi Cavoukian, the beloved Egyptian-born, Canadian children’s entertainer, with parents, grandparents, and the children themselves. The film holds the viewer’s attention with beautiful visuals and wonderful information that may change the way society looks at the importance of these early years. When we spend time with our children as they enter our world, when we make it easier for families to take time off from work to be part of the initial acts of the play of life, everybody wins. Raffi said it best:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][blockquote cite=”Raffi”]”When you pay attention to the beginning of a story, you can change the whole story.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life is currently streaming on Netflix and can also be watched on Youtube for $1.99. Do yourself a favor: grab some popcorn and your favorite beverage, set aside an hour and a half, and watch this documentary. You’ll be glad you did.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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