The Grown-Ups

    • Industry
    • November 18, 2016
    • By Melanie Goodfellow

    Average life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased from 25 years old in the early 1980s to 60 years old today, but many care systems around the world have yet to take on board that so many people with the condition are living well into adulthood.

    Maite Alberdi's The Grown-Ups examines the situation in her native Chile, which has one of the highest incidences of people born with Down syndrome in the world due to its highly restrictive abortion laws. The film follows 40 and 50-something adults – Anita, Rita, Ricardo and Andres – who are attending an expensive private school for people with Down syndrome.

    They are desperate to break out of the extended childhood cocoon imposed on them by protective parents, but it's debatable how they would cope in the real world.

    The film grew out of Alberdi's 2014 feature documentary Tea Time about her grandmother and her old school friends who met up regularly for a tea party over six decades. One of the characters in that film was an aunt with Down syndrome.

    "One of my grandmother's big concerns was what would happen to my aunt when she wasn't there. She always expected to outlive her daughter, but with the rise in life expectancy this risked no longer being the case. A lot of parents of her generation found themselves in her situation. It was with this doubt of my grandmother in mind that I started researching the options out there for adults with Down syndrome in Chile," says Alberdi.

    She discovered that, on many levels, Chile's approach to its citizens with Down syndrome was outdated. Protection laws only cover them up to the age of 25 years and they are discriminated against in terms of wage equality, regardless of whether they are as productive as their co-workers or not.

    Alberdi spent two years researching the film and another year simply visiting the school to observe what went on. "I was looking at the situations, the dynamics and the kind of thing that happened to the characters. When you make an observational documentary like this without interviews and voiceovers, you really need to understand what could happen. I always trust that the things I see in that phase I will see again when I am there with a camera, because life is a cycle and it is likely to happen again," says Alberdi. "We then shot over one year, three times a week, and then spent eight months editing."

    When Alberdi finally did start filming, with her long-time cinematographer Pablo Valdes, the start of the shoot coincided with a new programme by the school to treat its pupils more like adults in response to a growing sense of discontent as they grew older and older. "It was aimed at making them feeling like adults, working with a psychologist," says Alberdi.

    But the programme was also the catalyst for a rebellion by the pupils which had been a long time coming as they grappled with being treated like children into adulthood. "It changed the mood in the school and not all the parents were in agreement with the approach," she says. "I think the parents will be shocked when they finally see the film."

    As she awaits the release of the film in Chile next summer, Alberdi is developing her next feature documentary The Mole Agent. "It's about a private detective and I can't say any more than that, otherwise I will kill the case," says Alberdi. She hopes to show footage for the project at next IDFA.


    The Grown-Ups

    • Maite Alberdi
    • 2016
    • 80 min

      A moving, confrontational portrait of four Chilean adults with Down syndrome. Although they feel ready for adult life, society doesn’t agree.

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