A dad asked his daughter philosophical questions every year on her birthday, and recorded her replies. Her answers, from age 2 to 18, are now the subject of a nostalgic documentary.
On June 14, the HBO documentary film "How Do You Measure A Year?" will debut on HBO and stream on Max. The Oscar-nominated short by independent filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt depicts a 29-minute evolution from young innocence to adolescent eye rolls.
"What do you want to do when you grow up?" Rosenblatt asks a very young Ella in the film’s trailer.
"Put on makeup and eat gum," she answers.
"To be a good person but not be perfect," says Ella when she's older.
The dad's questions — "What do you want to say to your older self?" "Are you happy?" and "What would you like to say?" — are intended to evaluate their evolving father-daughter relationship.
In one powerful scene, Rosenblatt asks a more grown-up Ella what she's most afraid of.
"Life," she says. "I'm afraid of living. Because there's twists and turns that you don't expect and it can be rough. And I don't want to go through that."
Rosenblatt also asks Ella how she thought their relationship was going.
At one point, Ella reflects on her "tough" relationship with her dad.
"I think it's gotten worse the past few months," she says. "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."
Rosenblatt says he didn’t necessarily intend to turn his footage into a film.
“I just 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 told TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager.
As Rosenblatt tells TODAY.com, "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 adds, "We also see a girl go through all the different stages of growing up — especially the challenges (when she's a) tween and teen — and you see her come out on the other side of it. Based on what other parents have told me, it's more hope that this too shall pass."
It's not the father-daughter co-stars' first time working together — the 10-minute short "I Used to Be a Filmmaker" captures the pair's relationship when Ella was newborn and “Beginning Filmmaking” followed Rosenblatt’s attempts at teaching Ella, then a preschooler, how to make a film using her very own video camera. His other shorts ("I'm Charlie Chaplin" and "I Like It A Lot") document other notable moments in Ella's life.
Watching the latest footage, says Rosenblatt, made him appreciate his daughter even more.
“How amazing a person she is and how much I love her,” he told Hager. “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.”