I had the pleasure of seeing the documentary ""Somewhere Between" last night at an art-house theater on the West Side, followed by a question-and-answer session with the director.
We did it right — Katrina and I went with three other adoptive couples with young girls from China, and prepared with a raucous discussion of inappropriate topics at a nearby Japanese-tapas place. The beauty of dinner at a Japanese restaurant is that you can drink gigantic bottles of beer and deep-fried things without social condemnation. We arrived in a very upbeat frame of mind.
We left sober (literally and figuratively) and contemplative. "Somewhere Between" is simultaneously touching, inspiring, and painful for adoptive parents. The film — directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, herself an adoptive parent of a young girl from China — doesn't pull punches. The film focuses on four teenaged adoptees and their thoughts and experiences. Knowlton was fortunate to pick four very articulate and thoughtful teens willing to expose painful truths. The result is neither an anti-adoption film nor a pro-adoption apologia; it's a film that is comfortable with the lack of easy answers to hard questions. One teen struggles to define herself both in America and in China and wonders whether she will ever feel she belongs in either place. Another teen, finding what the director called the "needle in the haystack," succeeded in finding her birth family, only to find that the discovery and the new relationship with that family involved mixed feelings and emotions. A teen adoptee, visiting China, forms an attachment with a beautiful orphan girl with cerebral palsy, and is instrumental in connecting her with an American family equipped to care for her and wanting to adopt her, only to witness that taking the girl from all she has ever known is still heart-rending. Adoptive parents are portrayed honestly as well-meaning but imperfect — an adoptive mother's brutal question to her daughter's birth mother is filmed unstintingly. (One of the biggest laughs, and truest representations of pluralistic American culture, comes when an Anglo adoptive mother explains how she learned Mandarin to interact with her daughters, and the camera cuts to the Chinese-American father saying he can't follow because he doesn't speak Mandarin.)
This isn't a movie to persuade you that international adoption is a good thing if you think it isn't, or vice versa. It is a movie to make you grasp with the fact that it's a complex subject and that different adoptees have different experiences, and are treated differently by their birth and adoptive cultures. The self-awareness and resilience of the teens amazed me. The simultaneously joyful and painful scenes of first meetings with adoptive children remain stirring for me and remind me of our own first meeting with Elaina.
I highly recommend it to adoptive parents and people interested in the subject. It's going to be in very limited release, followed by a DVD early in 2013.
[Note -- more recent Popehat readers may not know that I've written a lot about international adoption and being an adoptive parent; you can find the posts collected here.]
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