For this issue’s cover story, we contacted the individuals behind three adoptee-centric films and asked them to share their thoughts: Why did they decide to make their documentaries? What was the process? And what do they hope the films accomplish? Their responses are below. As an added bonus, they agreed to share their work with you: Closure, in its entirety; the Gazillion Voices exclusive clip of the forthcoming YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’spast; and the animated short film Juxtaposed are available here FREE until June 4th.
Closurescreened in front of its first audience one year ago at a film festival in Seattle. I remember it vividly. Bryan had not played the film, as he was making tweaks up until the final few days before it screened. We were both so nervous! The film has since played in over a dozen states at film festivals, churches, and adoption family camps and has been watched in countries all over the world, including New Zealand, Zambia, Mozambique, Israel, Italy, and others. The biggest honor for us continues to be hearing how the film seems to transcend into the lives of families built both through adoption and biology.
Initially, my intention was to have home video footage for personal use, as we had planned to explore the city of my birth, and I knew there was a slight possibility that I would meet my birth relatives. I thought that my level of shock might prohibit me from fully being present in these key moments, and I wanted to be able to remember every detail of each moment. Bryan brought along a small personal video camera, and I asked that he capture as much as possible, knowing that what I deemed important may be very different than what he viewed as important. Two years and several camera upgrades later, Bryan and I found ourselves having continual conversations about making my adoption story public. We felt that his footage offered many viewpoints and equally important perspectives on adoption that may be helpful to others. Bryan has always had an interest in film but had never actually filmed and edited a feature-length movie. I, an introvert by nature and one who values privacy, grappled with what it may mean to allow anyone to view, criticize, possibly misunderstand, and question aspects of my story. However, after spending time working as a social worker at an adoption agency, I was intrigued by the idea of an unbiased adoption film without an agenda. I felt safe in knowing that, with my husband behind the camera and acting as the sole editor, my wishes for some aspects of my story to remain private would be granted without question. Bryan’s ability to include several voices to tell my story, while emphasizing the importance of allowing adoptees to tell theirs, is something I do not take for granted.
I remain enthusiastic about the incredible impact that film can have and am eager to see more adoptees telling their stories through all different media outlets. I do not tire of reading the incredible emails that come through my mailbox daily: stories of birth parents finally letting their big secret go; stories of adoptees learning how to walk that tightrope, showing gratitude for their adoptive families while processing the realities of their own adoption story; and adoptive parents boldly understanding that the child they are raising had a past that factors in to their identity. There is no denying that when we share our stories, we all gain a better understanding of the human condition.
For far too long, adoptee voices have been muted in the greater adoption discourse. I am working by speaking, blogging, tweeting, and using Closure to engage in any way possible to see this change. I am inspired by other adoptees—Lisa Marie Rollins, Susan Harris O’Connor, John Sanvidge, and Susan Ito (to name a few)—who have chosen to tell their stories through film, theater, and poetry. I know there are many more voices out there that we have yet to hear from. I cannot wait to hear them.
~ Angela Tucker
YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past
Our documentary began in the early months of 2009 as a passion project. My friends and I wanted to travel to India, this exotic country that I have always heard about but never seen with my own two eyes. One of my best friends, Sharmila Ray, has a deep passion for film and suggested that we not only explore India and the culture, but also search for my birth mother and my story. I was hesitant at first, but my dear friends convinced me that this trip would be my chance to search and find the answers that I have longed for all of these years. I agreed, and my five year journey began!
YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past chronicles our experiences of traveling to Goa, India, searching for adoption records, learning about the culture, getting lost in translation, meeting new friends, and unraveling the truth and lies about my history. The underlying questions create a heartfelt saga that brings my friends and me back and forth from India to the United States to discover: Who is my birth mother and will I ever meet her? In its essence, YOU FOLLOW is a compelling story about resilience, family, and identity.
Now that the film is complete, we hope to share it with all of our dear families, friends, and the adoption community. I really want to inspire everybody to dig deeper into their personal history, to travel to their place of origin, and to see the life of their ancestors with their hearts and eyes. Creating a connection between My India and My Self has caused me to live a better life with my own two feet on the ground.
~ Nisha Grayson
For a long time, I knew I wanted to do a personal story for my thesis. The main idea for the film came when I was visiting my parents upstate, and I was reminded of a framed poem that’s hanging in my bedroom called “Legacy of an Adopted Child.” My understanding is that it’s a pretty well known piece within the adoptee community, and I love the way it reads. I think that it answers a big identity question that adoptees face: “Where am I from?” The poem answers the question in a way that’s positive but also somewhat general. A lot of young adoptees feel that they need to integrate into one culture—either the culture of their birth country or their new adoptive one. However, the poem frankly states to be both!
My parents always made sure that I was educated about my Korean heritage while growing up, so I’ve never really wondered where I stand because I learned early on that I belong right in the middle. The “Middle” tends to be seen so negatively in other connotations, but for an adoptee, it’s such a unique and fun place to be—once you accept it. This is an incredibly positive message to give to someone struggling with his or her identity. In that sense, the poem is also a great teaching tool for parents because it tells them to embrace their child’s heritage; the adoptees are a product of two different worlds. This isn’t a crutch. If anything, it’s an advantage.
“Legacy”set itself up really nicely to be told as a story, and I wanted to portray it almost like an episode of Reading Rainbow. I had to come up with a whole middle story (since I didn’t want to retell the poem verbatim), but the narration in the beginning and the end of Juxtaposed are taken directly from the poem since I felt they carried the most weight. After the story was written, I made some rough storyboards and concept art that my thesis advisor and I reworked numerous times. From there, it was a matter of animating the film on paper, scanning it all into the computer, coloring everything in Photoshop, and then finally editing it together in Aftereffects.
My goals for the film are to have it be liked by anyone, really. When I first posted it on YouTube (which I then took down for film festival purposes, and I regret in hindsight), I received so many beautiful messages from people telling me they were either adoptees who were struggling with identity questions or from parents who thanked me because they themselves didn’t even know how to tackle the conversation. It also really touched me when people who weren’t adopted, or maybe knew someone who was, would tell me how much they liked the short. The film is small, and I did it as a student in college, so I never really expected it to go anywhere, at least within the festival circuit, and I am totally okay with that. The people whom I want to see it will see it, and the people who need to see it will see it. All that really matters to me is that those who do see Juxtaposed respond to it emotionally.
The whole experience creating Juxtaposed was a great teaching method for future work, too. I’m currently working on a 20-minute short about a gay man struggling to come out to his mother, which will hopefully be completed within the next year.
~ Alex Myung (Wager)