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Did 'Babies' violate child labor laws?

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The Associated Press reports the documentary Babies might have violated child labor laws. Under California law, infants are only allowed to be filmed for 20 minutes a day, and must be at least 15 days old.

Since one of the babies featured in the documentary — which chronicles the lives of four babies from birth until their first steps — is from California, the filmmakers could have violated the law. Though the director, Thomas Balmes, told the AP he hardly disturbed the lives of his subjects — and that the babies weren’t actually working — an investigation could be greenlit against the filmmakers if the state labor commissioner’s office sees it fit. If it’s decided Babies did violate the law, the filmmakers could be fined anywhere from $50 to $5,000, and be precluded “from getting a permit to film in California in the future,” according to the commissioner’s office.

UPDATE: James Schamus, the CEO of Focus Features — the studio behind the film — has issued a statement in response: “Although Focus was not involved in the actual filming of Babies, we have spoken at length with the filmmakers and with Hattie [the California baby]’s family, as well as with labor law experts, and we can state categorically that the Associated Press’ irresponsible conjectures and speculations about California’s child labor laws and their application to the film are just that. The filmmakers more than adhered to both the letter and the spirit of the law, despite any sensationalist ‘may have’s AP wishes to float on the Internet.”

Babies producer Chez Wam’s attorney, Anthony J. Oncidi of Proskauer Rose, LLP., issued the following statement: “California’s child labor laws could not be clearer — these rules apply to minors who have been hired to work as employees. That’s not what we have here. Hattie was not an ’employee’ in any sense of the word. The producers simply captured on film Hattie’s wonderment as she interacted with the world around her. They didn’t direct her, they didn’t ‘hire’ her because of any particular skills she had (other than being an adorable baby), she didn’t clock in or out, and she was free to take a nap any time she wanted.”

Susie Wise, Hattie’s mom, told EW a short time ago: “It was in our contract that nothing could happen to harm the baby, and I think it even called out that sleep and eating patterns should not be disturbed.” Wise even said a lot of the footage was filmed by her husband, a cinematographer. “When the crew came from France it was obviously a bigger deal, and we would do more outings and adventures. At most, the crew was five people, but we have a small house so it was still significant, and it was a big camera.”