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Filmmaker and Former DGA President Michael Apted Dead at 79

January 8, 2021 01:18 | By
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Anders Krusberg/Peabody Awards

It’s with terrible sadness that we have to report the passing of Director Michael Apted at the age of 79.

His achievements were vast and many, going all the way back to his directorial work for the BBC, which included stints on Coronation Street. That television work culminated in his involvement in the World in Action episode “7-Up” in 1963 that would lead to an impressive run of nine documentaries over the course of 56 years ending with 2019’s 56-Up. The series began with Apted interviewing a group of 7 year olds from different backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, whom he would revisit every 7 years to see where they were and if their situations had changed in that time. The series led to some surprising turns in luck and finances for the participants, which always kept it interesting even as the viewers aged themselves.

That wasn’t the only achievement for Apted, as he also directed 22 feature films, including 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, nominated for seven Oscars with Sissy Spacek winning for her performance as Loretta Lynn, and 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist, which received five Oscar nominations. Apted didn’t shy away from franchise fare, directing the 1999 James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, and 2010’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Other more recent films of note include historical dramas, Enigma and Amazing Grace, about important events in British history.

Apted served three terms as president of the Directors Guild (DGA) from 2003 to 2009, giving him the longest run as President of that guild since George Sidney in the ’60s. He also received the organization’s Robert B. Aldrich Award in 2013, and its Honorary Life Member honor five years later.

A few of his DGA colleagues have made statements, including current President Thomas Schlamme, saying, “His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our guild. A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication.”

Another former DGA President Taylor Hackford said, “Michael Apted was the definition of ‘mensch’ — like the wonderful director he was, you could always count on him to deliver a clear and well thought out point-of-view, usually leavened with a dollop of dry wit.”

On a personal note, I had many chances to spend time with Mr. Apted, interviewing him for two of his “Up-series” docs and a few other movies mentioned. He was someone who I always enjoyed seeing, always knowing that if nothing else, I’d get another opportunity to see him in seven years. Sadly, the last time I saw him in 2019 when he was at New York’s Lincoln Center for 63-Up, he looked frail, and he seemed to not recognize me. It made me quite sad, and I urged the heads of the Critics Choice Association to give him an award for his documentary award. Indeed, he received the organization’s Landmark Award at the 2019 Critics Choice Documentary Awards one month later.

Even though his name never quite achieved the level of fame of a Spielberg or Scorsese, Apted’s impact on filmmaking, particularly documentaries, is undeniable, and his passing leaves a large hole in many hearts of the people who had a chance to know him.

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