By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The documentary “Somewhere Between” begins with the adoption of a tiny Chinese girl by an American family. The family turns out to be that of the director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, who has previously worked on documentaries about cooking and “Sesame Street” as well as helped produce prominent dramatic films such as “Whale Rider,” “Mumford,” “The Shipping News,” and “Crazy in Alabama.”
But “Somewhere Between” arises from a more personal story. Goldstein wanted to see how Chinese adoptees, most of them female, grew up in the United States, so she would have some idea of what her daughter, Ruby, would go through as.
The film opens with a flashback to vintage news footage of China’s “One Child Policy,” which was implemented in 1979. The policy resulted in an enormous number of abandoned babies, mostly girls. Approximately 80,000 girls abandoned in the wake of that policy currently live in the United States, occupying every one of America’s 50 states.
“Somewhere Between” focuses on four of these girls, each in her teens: Jenna Cook of New England; Haley Butler of Nashville, Tenn.; Ann Boccuti of Philadelphia, Pa.; and Fang “Jenni” Lee of Berkeley, Calif.
Director Goldstein Knowlton went into the project knowing that not all Chinese adoptees’ stories are the same. But she was surprised, and the viewer might be too, at the diversity of the young girls’ backgrounds, and the differences in their attitudes towards where they came from.
The director’s camera follows the four girls for some time in the film’s early section, wisely not telling us too much too soon about their lives. Their politics, religious beliefs, and interests range across a wide spectrum. The contrasts between their lives always fascinates.
The film then explores the young women’s involvement in CAL/Global Girls, an organization devoted to adoptees taken in across racial lines. As they examine their divided backgrounds from a worldwide perspective, including meeting parents and adoptees based in other parts of the world, their wisdom as teachers, with inspiring stories to tell, emerges. But so do their disparate attitudes towards their origins.
Goldstein Knowlton gained access to China itself, and the footage shot there tells an important part of the movie’s overall story. It is one thing to discuss primitive Chinese orphanages and systemic abandonment of female babies. It is another thing to visit the very places where these things happened and, in some cases, continue.
The film lets the girls tell their own stories.
Jenna, Haley, Ann, and Fang occasionally take over the camera to let the audience in on especially personal aspects of their lives. They discuss their experiences and their growing and changing feelings in their own words.
Being caught between two cultures is never easy. The choice that some of the girls make, to return to China and try to make some sense of their early years, makes things even more difficult. Tears, especially in the latter half of the film, grow common. They cry for the past, the uncertainty of what they’ll discover in their home country, and the sudden, sharp realizations of how their pasts affect their personalities.
“Somewhere Between” confronts a worldwide phenomenon, but makes sure to always ground its stories in specific people — hardworking, capable, compassionate youth seeking the missing pieces of themselves. Director Goldstein Knowlton convincingly unites the personal and the political into an enthralling study of the triumphantly human. (end)
“Somewhere Between” opens Friday, October 19th at Seattle’s Varsity Theatre in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes, call 206-781-5755 or check local listings.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.