Analyzing ‘Babies’ documentary film (2010) by Thomas Balmes

Analyzing ‘Babies’ documentary film (2010) by Thomas Balmes


Thomas Balmes created a documentary that records the first year of four babies from Tokyo, San Francisco, a remote area of Namibia and in Mongolian Steppe. The film has successfully captured the contrasting cultures represented in the environmental setting from where the documentary was shot (Balmes, 2010). For this reason, it forces the audience to reflect periodically to the varying aspects of the culture revealed throughout the film. Besides, the film successfully describes the universal and culturally patterned aspects of the four babies and the ones of childhood. The Japanese and United States cases typically highlight the cultural life of the modern elite who are educated, urbanized, one-child families and a two-parent family life. On the other hand, the slum community or lower class is not represented in the film despite the fact that they are among the fastest growing demographic population in the world.  However, both the Namibian and Mongolian cases represent the nomadic herding cultures.

Cultural Beliefs, Values, and Practices regarding the Care giving of Infants and Toddlers

The film highlights the fact how cultural practices, beliefs and values impact the lives of children. Moreover, it accounts for much of the variability that people can accept through the differences represented by the lives of the four different babies. For instance, three of the four cases represent communities have access to high-tech and modern hygienic obstetric care. It is possible to draw that both the United States and Japanese cases tend to misrepresent the larger society where fathers are deeply involved and concerned about their new offspring. This is because typically, it is rare to find fathers who are deeply involved with the lives of their new born. For instance, it is common among the Japanese communities to have fathers who are more committed and deeply involved in their work and leisure activities as opposed to their newborn babies. Government’s attempt to change such status quo has been observed as unsuccessful.

However, the film successfully highlights the fact that women tend to be deeply committed to lives of their newborn babies. The most significant contribution towards anthropology in the process of eradicating stereotypes that are long standing is the demonstration of careful fieldwork. The scenario essentially implies that women are the real breadwinners in many communities as demonstrated through Balme’s documentary film. Typically, men tend to supersede women due to the rise of irrigation and plow agriculture as far as their relative contribution towards subsistence cultivation is concerned. In countries such as in the United States, the audiences catches a glimpse of the mother in the kitchen tending to various tasks that ensure that her baby is taken care of. Among other chores, the Mongolian mother is seen engaging in milking activities besides other tasks that she handles while at ease with her offspring (Balmes, 2010).

The most common scene in Balme’s documentary film is where mothers engage in other activities while attending to their care giving duties. One particular scene is where a mother is forced to trek home from gardening or foraging while having her baby attached to her hip. In such a scene, the mother simultaneously carries a sack of harvest, calabash of water or a pile of firewood either on her back or on her head (Balmes, 2010). Therefore, women engage in infant care while at the same time attending to other tasks in a universal level.

Variations in Temperament and the Impact Temperament has on the Relationship with Caregivers and Environments

The Namibian family represented a culture that is closely knit as mothers to the newborn worked closely with each other with fathers perpetually absent in the scenes. The babies live with a kind of tribe herders as they sat with their mothers the most part of the day breastfeeding. This is while the mothers attended to jewelry making as well as other beauty activities such as making of each other’s hair. Such Namibian scenes appeared less frenetic as compared to the San Francisco and Tokyo counterparts. Although the Namibian scenes highlighted several baby scenes containing a ton of flies, the mothers did not mind to see their babies dirtying themselves as they played with dirt however much they liked. However, as compared to other babies, the Namibian babies seemed to interact more with each other and with nature. This is mostly because they spent most of their day outdoors (Balmes, 2010). As a result, they were allowed to play with sticks, running water as well as stones. The scenario was perhaps the most differentiating temperament of Namibian babies to their relations with nature and their caregivers.

Being an Eastern culture, Japan represented various distinct differences with United States, Mongolia or Namibian cultures. As opposed to Namibia for instance, childbirth process is represented to both serene and quiet. Therefore, the child-bearing process is assumed peaceful despite the fact that it happens in the bustling metropolis of the city of Tokyo. As the first child to the family represented in Balme’s documentary film, Mari’s mother has been depicted as isolated (Balmes, 2010). The scenario is contrast to the mothers in Namibian families where mothers belonged to groups. However, the child is seen to be fully taken care of in regards to heavy clothing and high hygienic conditions as opposed to the Namibian babies who were mostly naked.

Hattie represented Western cultures as far as child caring culture is concerned. The first main difference in comparison with other cultures was the fact Hattie’s childbirth process was medical-zed. The child also receiving regular breastfeeding accompanied with baby wearing and co-sleeping culture (Balmes, 2010). However, the most striking difference in comparison with other babies was the fact that the baby was mostly lonely. The film or documentary has only depicted the baby with her parents and no one else. In addition, scenes of this baby depict a changing culture in regards to fathers. As opposed to other babies, Hattie’s father seemed to be more involved with the baby.

The last baby represented a Mongolian family or culture as far as child caring is concerned. Bayar is the name of the baby who is deeply isolated from the rest of the family members including his own mother. The baby comes from a nuclear family of herders whose birth has been represented to being harsh as the baby was immediately set apart from the mother after birth. Instead of smiling, the mother seemed to stare at him blankly as she lay deep in exhaustion from her hospital bed. Moreover, as the baby got older, he was mostly left on his own without any attention from the adults. In fact, there is one time that he is tied to a table leg to keep him from crawling or wondering. Such isolation is experienced when the baby is left to experience the wrath of his older brother who felt displaced at his arrival. Perhaps the temperament of Mongolian family is far more harsh towards child bearing as there is little love and attention tended towards Bayar.

How Parents and Children Cope with Separation and the Implications this has on the Attachment Relationship

Availability of resources plays a critical role in how children tend to cope with separation in different stages of their development. In regard to the documentary, baby Hattie from San Francisco and also Tokyo’s baby Mari hold a much better developmental advantage relative to the baby Bayar from Mongolia and Namibia’s baby Ponijao (Balmes, 2010).  This is because both baby Mari and Hattie have access to better resources needed for an effective child growth and development. Therefore, on top of parental love, availability and access to resources play a critical role to a child’s separation and further growth as well as establishment of relationships.

However, it is important to note that a child’s particular relationship with his or her environment play a critical role towards their growth and development. For this reason, Namibia’s baby Ponijao was allowed by his community’s specific cultural practice to associate freely with his environment (Balmes, 2010). In this regard, he was able to start crawling for the simple fact that he was permitted to contentedly go all over the earth. Therefore, his relationship with his environment seemed to play a critical role towards coping with his separation from his mother’s arms.


Balmes. T. (2010).  Babies. Documentary Film. Retrieved from Date accessed. 1st March 2017.

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