Sunday, February 28, 2010

Going Home

I know it seems like this blog has turned into !! All Adoption Videos !! All The Time !! lately, but honestly it's just because there are so many films to write about. Also, it's lazy blogging. Embedding a YouTube clip is easy. And I'm busy, dammit!

So, here's the latest, a film I've written about before and finally got a chance to see today. I had very much wanted to see it when it played at the Rhode Island International Film Festival last August, but I was still recuperating from the Philly protest.

Also be forewarned, I suck at film reviews. Actually I don't even review them. I just totally personalize films to my own life. If you want a serious review of this film, head on over to Sang-Shil Kim's place -- she's got a great one posted and a good discussion going on in comments too. This blog post, it's going to jump all over the place and be shamelessly self-referential. Although I have to say when I came home tonight and pulled out the notes I had scribbled down in the movie theater, many of the points I wrote were items she had noted too. I had forgotten her review when I was there, and it was kinda cool to see many items had the same impact on me when I went back to read hers tonight.

The film, which seriously needs more attention in adoptionville, is

Directed by Jason Hoffman.
Produced by Mikyung Kim

Lazy blogging trailer spot here:

Equally lazy cut and past synopsis follows:

A 21 year-old Korean adoptee, Jason Hoffmann, was raised Jewish in New York City. This documentary about family, love, and bloodlines exposes the challenges and triumphs of locating Jason's roots and birth family in Korea.

As a child, Jason barely expressed any interest in his Korean heritage. But as he grew into a young adult, he became more curious. Jason summons up the courage to initiate contact with his birth mother, and without knowing whether face-to-face meetings are even possible, he takes a chance and travels to Seoul.

Jason can only hope to meet his birth mother, father and his 23 year old sister. According to documents from the adoption agency, neither his father or sister even know that he exists. With the documentary's producer/his girlfriend, Jason undertakes a life-changing journey in a foreign culture full of uncertainties and surprises to discover the meaning of family.

This is a really really important film for a number of reasons, one being the ages of the director and the producer -- 21. Yeah, 21. This is an incredibly hardcore serious tear your heart out production  done by people who, when I was their age, damn, I was a hot mess. I found myself during the entire film doing a compare and contrast of my own adoption journey (or lack thereof) at the same age.

Like this ---

Age 20: De-fog. Get a call from someone at Adoption Forum of PA (now defunct) telling me to get my ass in gear because soon I may not be able to get my birth certificate. Action taken: nothing.

Age 21: Finally decide to get my ass in gear and get my birth certificate. Discover that haha joke's on me, now I can't get it because the records sealed. Oops. Action taken:  Re-fog for 4 years.

I just kept wondering how many years of grief and aggravation I could have spared myself if I had been a little more with-it, a little more motivated, a little less lazy.

But anyway.

Seeing a real adoption film in a real movie theater was a first for me. There's nary an adoption documentary I haven't seen yet, but so far every one has either been in the privacy of my home or in the presence of other adoptees in one of their homes. Seeing a film like this on the big screen is an entirely different experience -- the darkness of the theater, the hypnotizing effect of the big screen, and -- WTF - the reaction of other moviegoers.

Yeah, the reaction.

I must confess, it irritated me. OK granted the theater did not seem to have a large population of we shiny special chosen ones in attendance, so the nonadopted experience and take on things is obviously going to be different than an all-adoptee audience, but there were times I found myself mightily  agast at what people were laughing at. I felt the scenes where Jason was struggling with language to be almost unbearable to watch, and yet these got laughs from the audience.

Erg. Not cool.

Also the opening and closing scenes were a nursery with infants. Disassociate in 3... 2.... 1. Scenes like these I find horribly triggering. A sea of babies in an orphanage represents to me despair, hopelessness, economic injustice and a sea of tears, yet this got a uniformed "awwww" from the attendees. Yikes. There were other really emotionally fragile parts during the film that got laughs from the audience, which seriously made me doubt deeply the empathy of the American public, or at least the New York film festival-attending population. Thankfully there were a few other adoptees in the audience I was able to speak with briefly after the film who noted as well how uncomfortable the laughing made them.

The film has been shown so far at a number of festivals, but where it really needs attention is a round of adoption conference circuits. Barb Lee's "Adopted" has been shown at all of them, and it would be very interesting to do a back to back with "Going Home" and "Adopted".  Now, I'll preface the next part by saying it's completely not fair to take tiny snips of someone's appearance in an adoption documentary and do a complete judgment on them.

But I'll do it anyway 'cause I'm shallow like that. For karma payback, check out my fat ass on either one of documentaries filmed last summer in Philly and judge away.

As I was saying, I think it would be great to compare these two, especially the reactions and responses on the part of the adoptive parents portrayed in the film. I very much appreciated something Sang-Shil wrote, where Jason's adoptive father took the time to actually ASK him what he wanted their role to be in all of this. Also something I found to be very gentle was during the scene where Jason learns his original mother's name, there's a brief glimpse of his adoptive mother watching him for his reaction, as opposed to the tensed-shoulders, locked-jaw, bug-eyed insecurity or outright dismissal that other adoptees have had to endure at the mercy of their adoptive parents when discussing adoption. Case in point.

It's no secret I've had a real fondness for this film, going back to when it was in production. The trailer on YouTube was one of the first adoption videos I came across when I started collecting them and I was just knocked over at the idea of someone so young - my own son's age! - traveling to Korea on an adoption search. I mean, I was well into middle age when I finally got up enough guts to go home to just Philly, for crying out loud -- the idea of an overseas search was just too emotionally exhausting for me. And also, for you adoption bloggers who've been around for a bit, there's this picture from the Korean Quarterly in Spring 2009. When I saw that picture, right away I thought: Julia

Above all, what I loved best about this film is something I'm struggling with getting the right words down about, but it boils down to a unity even in disagreement, and the commonality of the going home experience in all our diversity as adoptees. And by diverse, I'm not only speaking of the difference between domestic and transracial/international adoptions, but the view of adoption itself. If you read over this here old blog, and compare it to the blog at Third Cat Productions, what's apparent (at least to me) are two extremely different views on adoption. Jason has been quoted as saying he wanted to create a film that would be a "celebration of adoption".... whereas, oh friends, this blog is anything but.

And yet.

There was nothing in this film I didn't relate to. Take away the added loss of the language barrier, the journey in Korea was just about step for step my own experiences in Philadelphia. Definitely I cried just as much as he did. I left my own prayers and written wishes for my mother. I wondered if anyone had prayed for me. I wondered if any other prayer candles were burning for someone else's faceless mother. I cried in Philadelphia, and I cried in the movie theater this afternoon because it made me think of Philadelphia.

While his trip resulted in a reunion,  what meant the most to me was the portrayal of that elusive ghost land  of the original home. Reunited or not, that brief time when adoptees can consciously walk in the place where we know we are from and we know who we are -- that fragile moment when search is over but reunion has not yet happened --  is a sacred space that isn't captured in many adoption books and films. This one does.

A few final production notes on items I appreciated. The music is absolutely perfect. The film jumps forwards and backwards in time and location at moments, which is something I find particularly appealing in a film about an adoptee, as our own timeline is so fluid. Those of us who lack a coherent birth story, whose lives often appear to begin at our moment of adoption rather than birth,  live  in many places and times at once.

I also appreciated on a number of different levels that the actual moment of reunion was a blackout. If Jason's mother had appeared on the film, I know the only item I would have been focusing on would have been immediately searching for any physical resemblances as opposed to really being present with her words and tone. Being in the dark allowed me to connect with her in an intimate way that if I had actually seen her face at that moment, I don't believe I would have been able to.

You really want to see this. You want to keep an eye on the blog or the fan page or the mailing list, and buy a copy when it comes out on DVD.

I don't see this film as a celebration of adoption.  The breakup of a family is tragedy personified, and I view nothing to be as emotionally violent as separating a loving mother from her newborn. I saw pure grief, I heard bottomless loss in his mother's voice, I saw an older sister who was filled with a bemused love she couldn't understand and didn't even feel entitled to (when she first meets him she says something along the lines of, "I shouldn't be crying but I am"). Also, hopeless romantic that I am, I saw a very beautiful love story.  I do know how many of us are denied a connected partner during our most emotionally vulnerable time. When Jason's first mother says to him that she's glad he has a girlfriend the audience laughed, but I didn't. I heard what she was saying, at least I heard what I as a mother would have felt. She wasn't glad he had a girlfriend there, she was glad he had Mikyung.

But still that's the thing I loved so much about this. While as an audience we all bring our own viewpoints into whatever documentary we see on whatever subject,  I could take away an entirely different view on what the director originally intended, and still experience a film I connected with. I didn't see it as a celebration of adoption. I saw it as a celebration of an adoptee.

6 complaints from ingrates:

Sang-Shil March 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM  

Thank you so much for this post and for the shout-out! My post really wasn't a review either, just a bunch of random reflections that I wrote nearly 2 years ago. I'd like to think that I've gotten wiser since then :-)

I love what you said about "unity even in disagreement," because that's something I've been struggling with lately as I consider how fragmented the adoptee community can be. And the idea of a celebration of an adoptee vs. the celebration of adoption -- a thousand times, yes!

A perfect post. Thank you.

Judy March 1, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

Well. I really want to see this.

Stacy March 1, 2010 at 8:09 PM  

I cried, and cried and cried. I am an adoptee and an adoptive mother. The two opposing worlds that are so connected in their own convoluted relationship.
I am sorry we did not get to meet.
Perhaps at an LI Meetup.

Stacy March 1, 2010 at 8:11 PM  

Sorry for the 2nd comment, I wanted to request follow-up comments to be e-mailed to me and forgot to check the box.

Michelle March 4, 2010 at 12:10 PM  

I'm also an adoptee and an adoptive mom. My dd is Korean. I'm just holding back the tears here so my kids don't ask me what's wrong...

Thanks for putting this out here. I would love to see it.

carolinagirl79 May 16, 2010 at 11:17 PM  

Yeah me too. Adopted and an adoptive mother. But at least I have a real birth certificate and was able to track down 1/2 of my bloodline. My kids...adopted from China...what are the chances?

Actually I think they are very good as I think that in 10-15 years China will be bombarded with adult adoptees waving fistfuls of cash and birth parents will be located, but I dare not hope for my girls.

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