Films Trace Kids' Progress, 7 Years at a Time

The award-winning British documentary series that has traced the lives of a group of children from the age of 7 to 49 will debut in U.S. theaters this weekend with its latest installment, "49 Up."

Beginning at the age of 7, a group of brutally honest subjects have participated in the celebrated series that director Michael Apted has documented for more than 40 years.

The series has followed up with the group at seven-year intervals as they've gone through puberty, young adulthood and now, as they approach middle age. The series has captured what Apted calls universal experiences, contrasting their triumphs and disappointments, delving into their careers and relationships.

"You watch people grow up in front of you," Apted said. "You just get caught up in it, how life changes people. And I suppose what is powerful about it is it's about everyday life."

In the first film, "7 Up," 7-year-old Jackie described her plans for the future.

"I would like to get married when I grow up," she told filmmakers.

"I am down and depressed about my illness, but I am not down and depressed about my life," she said in "35 Up."

Now in the series' newest installment, "49 Up," she said she enjoys being herself.

Apted said it was hard to say what was most surprising about making the film.

"It started out as a political film. Then we decided to carry on with it and go back and see them. We realized that we had outgrown all that and we were making character studies," he said. "There is something in the seven-year-old personality that doesn't seem to change."

At 7, Tony Walker wanted to be jockey. Though he tried and failed, his dream has never died.

"It breaks my heart, even now," Walker said. "I would love to have been a jockey. I have been a London cabbie now for 27 years."

Walker said he is proud to be part of the films and sees them as a legacy for his children and grandchildren

"Everyone has hopes and dreams throughout their lives, and this really gives an insight on people's aspirations and dreams being up and down at the same time," he said.

But some participants have found that growing up in front of the camera can be a painful experience.

Apted was a young researcher on the original documentary and is now a veteran film director with numerous Hollywood blockbusters to his credit. But to Apted this film is different; the characters are more like family.

"Neil is the most surprising," Apted told ABC News. "He is the one I play last because everybody wants to know what happens to him.

"He is the one at 7 you want to take home," Apted said. "And he was the sweetest, bright-eyed 7-year-old -- who at 21 was homeless. And then from then on his life has gone through a rollercoaster of changes."

The overall effect is a lot like time-lapse photography, with each face revealed at a new phase to create a chronicle of life, 42 years in the making.

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PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Stefanie Keenan/Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Getty Images for Wallis Annenber