At least, that's the contention of an Associated Press report which claims that the baby documentary 'Babies' may have broken those labor laws in its attempt to capture newborns in their natural habitat. At issue is the fact that director Thomas Balmes filmed kids in the first two weeks of life and for more than 20 minutes a day, which is in violation of California law. It's not often that a newborn baby manages to break the law, as most are concerned with things like eating, sleeping and discovering they have toes. But in California it turns out that according to child labor laws, even those normal baby activities may be cause for legal action if they are caught on camera.
At least, that's the contention of an Associated Press report which claims that the baby documentary 'Babies' may have broken those labor laws in its attempt to capture newborns in their natural habitat. At issue is the fact that director Thomas Balmes filmed kids in the first two weeks of life and for more than 20 minutes a day, which is in violation of California law.
For those not yet familiar with 'Babies,' the film follows four newborns in four very different corners of the world in order to highlight what the director calls "a common environment in terms of love and affection and time." Babies Hattie (San Francisco), Mari (Tokyo), Ponijao (Namibia) and Bayarjargal (Mongolia) were all filmed from birth through the age of four in an attempt to document not just the development of children but also to show how environment and culture affect -- or don't affect -- that growth.
One of those cultural difference, though, could theoretically cause unexpected problems for the film, as California state labor commission attorney David Gurley indicated they may be forced to investigate Hattie's involvement if any complaints are lodged. So far, however, that doesn't appear to be the case ('Babies' doesn't open until tomorrow, so most crusaders against baby labor haven't yet seen the movie).
Producer Amandine Billot, for one, sees this as little more than a tempest in a tiny toy teapot.
"California's child labor laws only apply to employees, and Hattie was never our employee in that way," Billot told the AP. "Just as filmmakers who produce nature films seek to blend in with their environment, we set out to create a wildlife film of human babies by being as unobtrusive as possible. In short, we quietly observed and recorded the babies' activities."
We're not quite sure if the wildlife film comparison is the direction Billot wanted to go with this -- chances are that Marlin Perkins never got into hot water over Omaha's strict ocelot labor restrictions -- but consider this: The last time California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar intervened with a group of children the result was 'Kindergarten Cop.' The threat of a sequel to those events should be all the incentive Hollywood needs to avoid litigation against 'Babies.'
Focus Features responds with the following statements:
"California's child labor laws could not be clearer -- these rules apply to minors who have been hired to work as employees. That's not what we have here. Hattie was not an 'employee' in any sense of the word. The producers simply captured on film Hattie's wonderment as she interacted with the world around her. They didn't direct her, they didn't 'hire' her because of any particular skills she had (other than being an adorable baby), she didn't clock in or out, and she was free to take a nap any time she wanted."
- Chez Wam's attorney Anthony J. Oncidi of Proskauer Rose, LLP
Mr. Oncidi is the chair of Proskauer's labor and employment department in Los Angeles and is an expert on California employment law.
"Although Focus was not involved in the actual filming of 'Babies,' we have spoken at length with the filmmakers and with Hattie's family, as well as with labor law experts, and we can state categorically that the Associated Press's irresponsible conjectures and speculations about California's child labor laws and their application to the film are just that. The filmmakers more than adhered to both the letter and spirit of the law, despite any sensationalist "may have"s AP wishes to float on the internet."
- James Schamus, CEO Focus Features