The Provost’s Office for Indiana University has been doing a wonderful documentary project since 2016. It is called IU 2020 and it follows twelve students from the class of 2020 during their time at IU. There are new episodes to come in the fall, but the two seasons that have been released are excellent. The project gives you a sense of the wide breadth of what IU has to offer students as well as how people change over the years. (Full disclosure: Ethan Gill, one of the directors of the project, is a good friend of mine and, when we were at IU together, he was the DP for a short film I directed calledArt Love  that follows its protagonist over the course of her four years in college.)
IU 2020 reminded me that film as an art form has a greater potential for capturing how people age and change over time than other mediums, such as theater. There are many plays that take place over the course of years, but when they are performed, actors have to depict the changes their characters go through as they age through artificial means such as makeup and evolving body language.
Film actors often use the same or similar techniques to appear older. But this does not have to be the case. At its heart, film is about capturing moments of time in the form of images. But who says that these images have to be captured over the course of an average shooting schedule of weeks or months — why can’t these images be captured over the course of years or even decades?
The most common films to be shot over the course of years are those that are a part of franchises. While the main focus of the Harry Potter (2001-2011) franchise is seeing Potter and his friends fight the evil Lord Voldemort, there is a secondary thrill of seeing its main cast go from children to young adults in a matter of hours (an effect especially apparent if you binge them over the course of a week or weekend, which you might want to do while you’re self-isolating).
While capturing how their cast ages is a by-product of shooting the Harry Potter movies over the course of a decade, that objective is the main focus of the Up Series (1964-present). Director Michael Apted interviewed fourteen British children when they were 7-years-old in 1964 for a film called 7 Up (1964). Every seven years since then, he has made another documentary about his subjects as they grow older. If you watch the later films — the first one I saw was 56 Up (2012) — Apted and his collaborators splice in footage from all of the other documentaries, so you feel as if you are watching people become adults in a matter of minutes. It takes two of the most basic pleasures of watching movies — seeing time pass and enjoying the company of interesting characters — and magnifies them to groundbreaking levels.
Narrative films that are not a part of franchises which were shot over the course of years are rarer, but they exist. The most famous one, which perhaps shows the power of cinema to portray the passage of time at its fullest, is Boyhood (2014). Richard Linklater (who also directed The Before Trilogy [1995-2013] over a course of eighteen years) famously shot his magnum opus over the course of twelve years and follows Mason Evans Jr. from when he is in first grade to the day he moves into his freshman year dorm. The thrill of seeing Evans grow up before our eyes was one of the film’s main attractions when it came out, but there is more to this movie than that. There is a deep pleasure in viewing how time affects all of its characters, the older ones as well as its young protagonist. You get a deep satisfaction out of seeing Mason’s dad (memorably played by Ethan Hawke) figure out his life and grow as a father, or Mason’s mother Olivia (played in an Academy Award-winning performance by Patricia Arquette) provide a better life for her children by becoming a psychology professor. Everything about this movie, from its naturalistic cinematography to its length (2 hours and 45 minutes) grounds you in reality and conveys the epic nature of living the first quarter of a life.
Films such as the Up series or Boyhood, are, in a sense, life in miniature. They are records of how people live and change over time. They remind you that, given the right equipment, an artist can make something that is truer to the scope and pace of life than they can in any other medium. IU 2020 fits nicely in that artistic vein. Watching its young protagonists pursue their passions and make life-long friendships is a genuine pleasure. If you have enjoyed any of the previous films that I have mentioned, have nostalgia for your days in college, or simply want to watch something that is entertaining and/or profound, then you owe it to yourself to see every episode of IU 2020.
IU 2020 was previously scheduled to screen at IU Cinema on April 2. Unfortunately, this screening has been cancelled due to public health concerns over COVID-19. We are determining if it can be rescheduled.
Jesse Pasternack is a graduate of Indiana University. During his time at IU, Jesse was the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He also wrote about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse has been a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and is a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. An aspiring professional writer-director, his own film work has appeared at Campus Movie Fest and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.