In profiling Chinese adoptees in contemporary America, Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s deeply moving documentary illustrates that even the most specific of experiences can be universally relatable. Of the roughly 80,000 girls that have been adopted from China since 1991, we follow four teenagers; giggly, typical American teens who reveal a heartbreaking sense of self-awareness.They meet and bond with other adoptees, journey back to China in search of their birth parents, reach out to the orphaned girls left behind, and attempt to make sense of their own complex heritage. Issues of identity, race, and gender are brought to life through these articulate subjects, who approach life with honesty and open hearts. [Synopsis courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival.]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Narrative Feature and Documentary Competition at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 16th. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
Directed By: Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Executive Producers: Bobby Chang, John Fitzgerald
Producer: Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Cinematographers: Nelson Hume, Christine Burrill
Editor: Katie Flint
Music: Lili Hayden
Responses courtesy of “Somewhere Between” Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what’s it about?
Four teenaged girls, adopted as babies from China, explore the question, “Who am I?” and start a dialogue about family and identity.
OK: Now tell us what it’s really about.
My daughter Ruby is six. When my husband and I adopted her from China we had no idea what lay ahead. We became a family – in an instant. But as I began to think about Ruby’s future, I kept thinking about what would her life would be like when she becomes a teenager, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it in terms of her search for identity. I remembered my own search; I think being human is having that search, but hers might be so different than mine. I worried that if it was so different, how could I be there for her?
So I began talking to some of the 80,000 girls who had been adopted from China and brought to the U.S. since 1992; there were thousands of teenagers out there who were experiencing this, or who have already experienced it. I chose to follow four of them, from all kinds of families from across the US, and posed some really big questions. They were questions for my daughter, but they were also questions for all of our daughters.
Through these young women and their explorations of who they are, we ourselves pause to consider who we are, both as individuals and as a nation of immigrants. With great honesty and courage, these four girls open their hearts to experience love, compassion, and self-acceptance and show us the way, too.
The way back to storytelling…
I’m from Chicago – Go Cubs! – and have lived in Los Angeles for 23 years. I had planned on being an English major in college, because I loved literature and storytelling. My father said an English major would get me nowhere, professionally. My oldest brother strongly suggested I take at least one science course, and I unexpectedly ended up majoring in Neuroscience. He’s a Neuroscientist, but I swear that had no influence. It is a long story, but I ended up not going to medical school and instead, by true happenstance, being an assistant at the American Film Institute in DC. There I found my way back to story and storytelling through film. So, whether it is scripted films or documentary – I work in both – it is all about the storytelling and the combination that filmmaking encompasses: A collaborative art-form, a visual medium, and the opportunity to tell good stories to people – well, that’s why I make movies.
“Oh, I feel that way, too…”
The inspiration was – and is – a hilarious, gorgeous little girl from Hunan Province.
The big reason I made this movie is because every girl who’s going through this has her own way of dealing with it. So, maybe a girl will watch and say to herself, “Oh, I feel that way, too,” or, “Yeah, once when I was walking down the hall of my school I felt exactly like that.” Maybe she won’t feel alone in her experience.
I made a film about adolescence and what going through it is like for a specific group of girls, but it also shows the universal search for identity. Adolescence is always about wanting desperately to be individuals, and also about wanting desperately to fit in. It’s about finding that balance for every teenager, and for every teenager there are issues that make it hard to find. These girls are totally unique and totally like every teenager everywhere in the world.
The most important thing to me was to make a film from the girls’ points-of-view. I wanted to hear from them, in their words. I wanted to give them a way to voice their experiences and the platform on which to say it.
The candor and honesty of the four young women in the film is truly remarkable. I feel that audiences will find out more about themselves because of the depth which we are allowed into the lives of these girls, even if only for 90 minutes. Tthe film is emotional – audiences will definitely respond emotionally, in a good way.
Raising the money to make the film has been a challenge. My incredible crew deferred most of their fees, which was the only way this film got made. We’re still raising tax-deductible funds to pay for finishing the film, so if anyone is interested in helping us pay the bills please go to our website or Facebook and click the Make A Donation button.
I’ve just started a new project, with Norman Lear and Lara Bergthold, about the Declaration of Independence. It is about the current and powerful relevance of our “nation’s birth certificate,” as Norman calls it. And it will be non-partisan, funny and engaging. Really.
Check out these prior participants in the Los Angles Film Festival, courtesy of SnagFilms [Disclaimer: SnagFilms is indiewire’s parent company]
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