Tying to wrangle a teenager into doing most things is difficult for parents. It's safe to say that being on the receiving end of a dramatic eye roll is the norm in many households. Usually the request is fairly painless, but is typically met with the specific kind of drama that comes with raising a kid into adulthood.
Director Jay Rosenblatt decided to involve his daughter Ella in a documentary short that spanned 16 years, and did in fact include some heavy sighing at times. In How Do You Measure a Year?, he would ask Ella a series of questions every year on her birthday from ages 2 to 18, while filming her responses. Not since Richard Linklater's groundbreaking film Boyhood have we witnessed the inevitable change of childhood to something more. Here's what we know about this touching film.
Jay's daughter Ella Rosenblatt is the focus of his documentary 'How Do You Measure a Year?'
When she's 3 years old, Jay asks Ella what she wants to be when she grows up. Her answer is quintessentially childlike and reflects all that she knows of the world at the moment. "Put on makeup and eat gum," says Ella. Through the years that answer changes, which is of course the hope of this documentary, that we as the audience join them on this evolution. When she's only 8 years old, Ella reveals that she wants to "be a good person." A lot can happen in five years.
Sometimes Ella is smiling and engaging, clearly excited about being there. After all, it's her birthday. As childhood slips into the preteen years, Ella is more annoyed and at times almost sullen. "I do feel like things are changing," she tells her dad. Not only are they changing, but this change is being documented both for Jay and Ella herself. Rarely do we get to return to our own growth, though the digital age has absolutely made that easier.
Why did Jay Rosenblatt choose to make this documentary?
In a conversation with TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager, Jay said he "thought this would be a great project that if it didn’t turn into a film, it would be a great archive for her." He also thought it might inspire other parents. "The film shows how important it is to check in with your kids ... people might think, 'That is something I want to do with my kid,' (which would be) a good exercise," he told Jenna.
The process wasn't always easy of course as like any family, Jay and Ella didn't always get along. In one scene, she discusses their strained relationship. "I think it's gotten worse the past few months," explains Ella. "But — well, actually not worse. Just a little more difficult because we've been fighting a lot ... but we always make up and forgive each other in the end. So I feel pretty good about it."
Despite those tough times, or perhaps because of them, Jay appreciates what the film has given him. He is reminded of how "amazing a person she is and how much I love her." Jay then added, "As a parent it goes by so fast, so part of my motivation in filming or even home movies is just to hold on to it as long as you can."
How Do You Measure a Year?, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2023, is currently available to stream on MAX.