Saturday, January 12, 2013

Movie review: Teens adopted from China open up in 'Somewhere ...

When filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton and her husband adopted from China, she realized her infant daughter would someday want to know more about her home country.? Ruby, she realized, would eventually question why she was placed for adoption and began a life in a different culture halfway around the world.

Goldstein Knowlton began talking with teens adopted from China, and those conversations led to "Somewhere Between," showing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cinemark Century 16 at Eastport Plaza. The screening is sponsored by Families With Children From China's Oregon and southwest Washington chapter. (Note:? Tickets must be purchased in advance through the Tugg website; tickets will not be available at the theater.)

The documentary, filmed over three years, features four teens who live strikingly different outer lives but share an inner conviction that they dwell somewhere between cultures. The girls, captured in their early teen years, are products of China's one-child policy and social pressures that fueled parents' quest for sons. The filmmaker notes that of 175,000 adoptees from China, 80,000 lived in the U.S. when the film was made (it was released in 2011).

The girls range from a Nashville teen who wants to sing on the Grand Ol Opry stage to a Northeasterner who's coxswain for her prep school's crew team. But as the girls and their adoptive parents tell their adoption stories, common threads emerge.

As transracial adoptees in white communities, the girls feel the strain of never fully blending in.? One parent, and more than one child, talks of the drive to be perfect and achieve. "If you're always being seen and never blending in, of course you always want to do everything perfectly," says Peggy Cook about daughter Jenna. But Jenna views her perfectionism as tied to her placement in an orphanage because of gender: "I'm always searching for ways to compensate for the fact that I'm a girl," she says in one of the movie's many wrenching moments.

Each girl at some point calls herself a "banana" -- yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Later, one refines her view, saying, "It's more like scrambled eggs," the white and yellow all mixed up.

To a varying degree, they ache to know more about the "why" of their lives. Why were they in an orphanage, why were they adopted, what became of their birth families? The term "abandoned" is used frequently, freighted with varying emotions. At times you ache for the teen saying it, other times you wince as others repeat it? unthinkingly.

The documentary touches on many topics, sometimes only glancingly. Activist Hilbrand Westra makes a brief appearance; teens speak at an adoption forum in Italy; the role of religious faith in adoption, and understanding one's life, pops up regularly; an organization for Chinese adoptees called CAL/Global Girls is mentioned. Clearly, Goldstein Knowlton could have made three or four documentaries from her accumulated material and the wealth of issues woven throughout.

A significant thread explores searching for birth parents or families -- such a deep, rich topic that it overflows the banks of this project.? One girl chooses to seek information about her birth family, and the ensuing scenes had me shaking my head in astonishment at moments (a particularly starkly phrased question from an unexpected source) and blotting tears the next.?

The filmmakers could not have wished for more interesting, engaging subjects. Each teen cogently shares nuanced thoughts and emotions about her path from China to the U.S. They're obviously bright and talented, with rich lives.? When insecurity or pain seeps into their voices, it centers on questions of origin. Viewers have plenty to reflect on, in teasing out where general teen angst ends and adoption-specific issues begin.

The film's website warns that the sensitive nature of the material makes the film suitable for children 13 and older.? It's fair warning to all viewers. At times the raw emotion of the girls' search for identity can draw tears. Anyone in the "adoption triad" of birth parent, adoptive parent and adopted child should be prepared for the sticking power of the stories: The film, and these girls, will return to mind often, long after the credits roll.?

-- Kathy Hinson


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