Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Happy Cinematic Accident - Somewhere In Between

I woke up early this Saturday morning to welcome the weekend with a much-anticipated screening of the 1940 Hitchcock classic, REBECCA, a film as yet unseen for me.

In yet another display of reckless disregard for even the most important of details, I walked straight into the wrong theater. "Theater number two," the ticket taker instructed. Yet I wandered straight into the theater where I saw the last few Hitchcock films they show every weekend at 11 AM, caring not for the number four prominently displayed on the door, and obviously checking my twitter up to 15 minutes after my movie was to begin.

When the movie did finally start - in full color, and clearly a documentary - I knew I couldn't commit a cardinal sin by going into REBECCA late. What else could I do but watch the movie unfolding before my eyes, even though I'd heard absolutely nothing about it?

That movie was SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN, directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, and bookended by her personal experience adopting a daughter from China.

The cool thing about storytelling is how many different angles any topic really has. I know alarmingly little about the history or culture of China leading up to the climate that devalues girls and leads to countless stories like the this. I further would have been sufficiently captivated hearing about the undoubtedly excruciating bureaucratic odyssey on which hopeful adoptive parents must embark. But that's not the story Goldstein Knowlton wanted to tell, and boy am I glad.

Instead, she chose to shine a spotlight on teenage girls who 10-15 years earlier had been adopted into US families. I was treated to 90+ minutes with a cross-section of the bravest, smartest and most articulate young women captured in a non-fiction film. From "Jenni" or Fang, whose Berkeley mom learned Mandarin a year before she finally met her 5-year old daughter to Haley, growing up in a conservative Christian Nashville household and competing in beauty pageants, these girls and their families boldly took the audience on an emotional journey that was most unexpected to me.

I have ties neither to adoption nor Chinese culture, so at first I was surprised by how moved I was by this movie. Of course I found the story totally engrossing, as one young women begins an impossible quest to find her birth parents, and another champions for the US adoption of a toddler with cerebral palsy that she met on one of her many trips back to China.

No, the facts of these histories, as compelling as they were, couldn't possibly have resonated with my own past. But the overlying themes of identity, of unconditional love, of family - that's what hit me the hardest, what moved me and motivated me.

How did it motivate me? Out of nowhere, I felt myself in total awe of these young ladies, wishing that at more than twice their age, I were half as strong and articulate as they are. Wanting to be part of something meaningful, to do some good somewhere. And mostly - and perhaps least surprisingly, the movie did what only the very best documentaries do. It desperately made me want to watch more documentaries.

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