Jenn and I were still in the thick of completing our adoption paperwork when we heard about a new documentary, “Somewhere Between“, about four older Chinese adoptees. There was the Facebook feed, the preview, and the buzz as parents with children from China hoped it would be shown in their town. I figured I would see it on DVD. What were the chances it would play in Atlanta?
A year later I took my seat for the 5:25 showing at Midtown Cinema. 88 minutes later the credits were rolling up the screen and director Linda Goldstein Knowlton was standing in front of the audience, experiencing technical difficulties with a microphone. Fortunately the auditorium was small enough that she could project and answer questions without amplification. Before the first hand went up Linda proactively answered the question she gets the most; how is the little girl in pink with cerebral palsy doing? To everyone’s relief, the beautiful child is doing great. Linda answered more question about the girls, about the Kickstarter campaign to distribute the film, and petitioned the audience to get the word out.
The next day I was going to see “Somewhere Between” again. The first viewing was a blur, leaving more emotional impressions. I knew if asked about the movie after the first screening I could say how I felt but hard pressed to give details. From the opening scene of Linda and her husband in China, holding their daughter Ruby for the first time, through the interviews and intimate moments with the four girls one word came to mind: Heart. Ann, Fang, Haley, and Jenna were articulate and warm. One could leave the movie feeling as if they got to know the four girls.
With the first viewing I was able to see the movie as a father and member of the global group of families who’ve chosen their daughters and sons from the Middle Kingdom. Through that lens I knew my experience with “Somewhere Between” would hold moments of curiosity, wondering if Penelope would be like Ann, who gives the impression she couldn’t care less what you think of her. Will she be more like Jenna, a New England teenager with limitless talent, fueled by a desire to overcome the cruel twist of fate that transplanted her from her Chinese family to a new one in America? Maybe our daughter will want to have a connection with her birth family like Haley, the Nashville teen who dreams of being the first Chinese person on the Grand Ole Opry. Maybe she will be more like Fang, adopted at five to a family in California where she straddles the ocean wide-culture gaps between China and America with quiet tension. Or perhaps she will be nothing like any of the girls.
One day Penelope can watch these four girls with similar roots, see a snapshot of their lives. She can look at the screen and say “I’ve felt that way so many times” or “I’ve been teased like that before!”. It could be her introduction to gender inequality, as the girls relates how their sex is a factor in their adoptions. The one-child policy has left thousands of girls (and boys born with disabilities) orphaned. China’s effort to curb overpopulation is not the only reason though. Economic and social pressures led to Haley growing up with a blond-haired sister in America instead of the three black-haired ones with the same biological mother in China. Four female mouths to feed and no welfare for the sunset years led Haley’s birth mother to have her sent to another village where she Haley will live a better life.
After my second screening the following day I spoke to the director again, and told her how unfortunate it was “Somewhere Between” was stuck with the “Chinese adoption movie” label. I quickly added the importance to Chinese adoptees shouldn’t be diminished. But the movie touches on something larger, something affecting all of us.
You don’t have to be adopted to struggle with figuring out who you are. Without question, adoption adds another dimension to self-discovery, making a difficult journey more enigmatic. The way we see ourselves, the labels we apply, and the choices we make based on how we perceive ourselves continue past adolescence. I told Linda “I just turned 36 and I still feel like I’m discovering who I am!”. “Somewhere Between” is the first glimpse many of us have into the possibilities and struggles for our children adopted from China. More importantly, the movie is a powerful tie to continue binding the global sisterhood of Chinese adoptees.
During the height of their popularity, the rock band KISS released four albums at once; a solo album from each member. I wish Linda could do the same sort of thing with “Somewhere Between”. Each young woman was fascinating in her own right. I felt like each of them merited an entire film of their own. Nevertheless, the mix of the four made for a captivating and moving hour and half. During the Q&A Linda said she filmed over a 100 hours of footage. I’m certain there is a “Somewhere Between-Jenna” (and Ann, Haley, and Fang) film waiting to be mined from the wealth of footage.
Pre-purchase the DVD on Amazon.