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3798On Screen & On Scene: 'Somewhere Between'

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  • Sunny Jo
    Aug 10, 2012
      On Screen & On Scene: 'Somewhere Between'
      Submitted by Ken Choy on August 10, 2012 - 11:40am

      Crying at the start of a movie is usually a sign that you’re in for a
      powerful experience. The documentary Somewhere Between sends the
      viewer into a myriad of emotions as it tracks the lives of four
      adopted teenagers, some abandoned in China and now living in the
      United States. Half of all Chinese adoptees are in the U.S. Most are
      females, some left on the streets as a result of China’s One Child
      Policy, which began in 1981.

      The film is also a personal story for the producer/director Linda
      Goldstein Knowlton. At the beginning of the film, she briefly shows us
      her adoption of a Chinese baby. Packed with love, it’s a moving
      experience. But as Knowlton examines over the course of the film, the
      adoptions carry complex issues that affect the adoptees throughout
      their lives.

      Common are issues of identity. Haley, raised in Tennessee in a
      devoutly Christian household, competes in beauty pageants and emulates
      her older blonde sister. Her goal is to be the first Chinese American
      person to play the Opry. She occasionally refers to herself as a
      'banana' or 'twinkie'. Her surroundings don’t give her much
      opportunity to realize that the APIA community generally considers
      this comparison to be derogatory.

      In Berkeley, Fang’s Caucasian mother taught herself Chinese in a year
      in preparation for her daughter’s adoption. Fluent in Mandarin, Fang
      herself travels to China frequently. The film documents her struggles
      with identity while she assists in the adoption of a Chinese girl with
      cerebral palsy. Intelligent and perceptive, Fang realizes that her
      psychology plays into her determination get the girl adopted. As an
      abandoned baby, she has a quest to prove her worth.

      Type A and extremely driven, Jenna is also conscious of her need to
      succeed. Having competed in the US Figure Skating National
      Championships, Jenna calls her schooling “a career" and treats her
      extracurricular activities -- such as being a coxswain for a rowing
      team -- similarly. During a conference with adoptive parents, she
      breaks down when asked about being abandoned, admitting an undeniable
      desire to prove her worth.

      Many adoptees still seek their biological parents. Ann vacillates
      between being happy just having her adopted parents in her life and
      longing to search for her biological parents. The search is virtually
      impossible since some were left on the streets, and it’s a yearning
      that is bound to be unfulfilled (although one of the four girls is
      successful in finding her birth parents).

      “Abandoned” is a key term used in Somewhere Between, and although
      several of the film’s subjects were left out on the streets, the
      film’s focus does not necessarily lead the audience to conclude that
      they have been “saved” by their adoptive parents. And though it delves
      into the social and psychological effects of being adopted, the
      documentary doesn’t explore the more extreme examples. For instance,
      in Minnesota -- where there is a large Korean adoptee community -- the
      suicide rate is also high, according to a University of Minnesota 2002
      study. Likewise, Sweden has experienced higher suicide rates among
      intercountry adoptees. In fact there are some in the adoption
      community who advocate a ban on intercountry adoption. The omission of
      these aspects may lead one to think mostly glossy, warm-fuzzy images
      were presented, leaving a tinge of doubt about the overall intent of
      the film. While the lives of the film’s subjects have not been touched
      by more extreme situations, it would have benefitted the film to not
      ignore these either.

      Somewhere Between does succeed in engrossing the viewer in the lives
      and sometimes tumultuous inner worlds of these girls, and may serve as
      a primer for mainstream audiences on adoption. While examining the
      multiple challenges they contend with, the film’s dominant message is
      love, belonging, and hope. And for these girls, who struggle daily
      with the intimate impacts of government policy and transracial
      adoption, that’s something they deserve.


      Somewhere Between opens August 24 in New York and September 14 in LA.

      For a different perspective, check out Adopted -- a film by Barb Lee,
      a Korean adoptee raised in North Carolina.