Nanny Culture begins by following the company Nanny Inc. in London. It appears as though the initial documentary was just going to be about the boom in very rich people getting Nannies, particularly British nannies. However, they then hit on a stroke of luck as an Emirati family decide to allow the film crew follow their new British nanny into their home.
British nanny Julie Mcilvenny, though she actually sounds South African, moves to the Middle East where, strangely, her husband and two young children already live. It’s not explained why they are already out there without her. However, whatever the husband does means she doesn’t get to see him, particularly as his company isn’t based in Abu Dhabi where Julie is.
What you get with Nanny Culture is a brief and very tailored look at some differences in culture between the Emirati’s and the UK way of bringing up children. However, I’ve spent time in Abu Dhabi myself and know that what you see here is just the tip of the iceberg.
The documentary is also not helped by the fact that the nanny they follow, Julie, doesn’t come across as a particularly nice person. She doesn’t seem to be interested in taking the time to understand other cultures or points of view and instead just sneers or thinks they’re funny. Times such as reaching to shake the family neighbours hand or when she has to ring a fellow nanny about a necklace (although the reaction is a bit OTT from the other nanny). Sure she apologises but she never seems sincere, just laughing about it too. She also really doesn’t endear herself to the rest of the staff within the house.
The documentary makers got very lucky finding a family willing to allow them to film at all so options would have been limited, if there were any. They have done well to put something together that shows what life can be like as a nanny in the UAE though, and the conversations Julie has with fellow nannies confirm this, you suspect that both she, and they, got lucky with the family they both found.
There are genuine moments of laughter, some of it on the cringeworthy side, but laugh you will. When director Paul James Driscoll is talking to one of the children about if there were no helpers in the house, what would he do, are priceless – you suspect they could have made this without a nanny had they been allowed. I personally didn’t gel with Julie so those heartfelt moments were missing, I could spot where they were supposed to be though and if you feel differently about Julie you’ll find them moving.
Driscoll (who’s previously worked in various roles on films for Oxfam, the UN) put Nanny Culture together with producer Alyazia Bint Nahyan and co-producer Mazen Alkhayrat. If you are hoping to see a documentary highlight the differences in culture, then this isn’t for you. If you want to see how a nice Emirati family bring up their children with a houseful of maids and a nanny then this will give you one, nice, view of that. What’s missing is any sort of commentary on those nannies who aren’t so fortunate to find a nice family, or how bringing up the children in this way affects them at all.