Byron's own 7 Up stars

GROWING UP ON FILM: Film-maker Rick Stevenson with Hunter Morgan.
GROWING UP ON FILM: Film-maker Rick Stevenson with Hunter Morgan. Kate Oneill

A GROUP of Byron youngsters has been under the gaze of a US film-maker for the past two weeks.

Rick Stevenson has been recording their hopes, fears and dreams as part of a documentary known as the 5000 Day project.

He is tracking the lives of more than 200 children worldwide as they live through their often tumultuous teenage years.

Rick has selected 21 young people from our area, aged from 10-12 to take part.

This is the second year Stevenson has filmed the children, and he will return each year for at least the next seven years.

Each time he takes footage of their daily lives and records personal interviews that explore their feelings, attitudes and hopes for the future.

It's like the British 7 Up series, but there are some important differences, according to Stevenson.

"I felt 7 Up could have been done better," he said.

"What I liked about it was that it was longitudinal.

"But what I didn't like was that they only interviewed people every seven years - so you didn't get to see why they'd changed.

"The questions they asked were a little superficial, and when the kids were filmed at seven years old they became media stars, which affected it."

Stevenson said the stories of the kids involved in his project would remain private until filming was complete and would only become public if the child wanted it told.

One of the local children involved in the project is 12-year-old Hunter Morgan, a Year 7 student at Byron Bay High School.

The keen runner and surfer was selected after an audition process last year, which looked for children who were honest, articulate, and had an interesting view of the world.

Hunter says he is totally comfortable with being the subject of a documentary: "I don't mind because I don't really mind what others think of me," he said.

Stevenson said this was a rare trait among young people and it would be interesting to see if and how this changed as Hunter grew up.

Having started the project in 2001, Stevenson has conducted hundreds of interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, but has found a common thread in their lives: loneliness.

He said one of the unexpected outcomes of the project was that it seemed to help the subjects.

"Being asked to be analytical at the least self-analytical times of their lives, these kids seemed to process all that was happening to them in a much healthier way, by asking more questions of themselves they became more self aware."

Hunter's dad, John, said he considered 5000 Days to be a gift to his son.

"The children will talk to someone who's totally out of their stratosphere, and the questions that will be asked are hard questions that a parent may not ask and probably not get a direct answer to.

"It gives the kids an opportunity to speak about their trails and tribulations knowing that it's being filmed and private from their parents. It's character- building."

Rick Stevenson has already completed his first film from the project in the US - Two Brothers - which features brothers from a Mormon family.

He is currently working on a TV series called Listen, which will tell the stories of other children.

"Our major goal is to create a website and a body of short stories where kids can reference other kids and their specific problems in an effort to understand their own problems, with the primary message being: 'You are not alone'."

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