Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wo Ai Ni Mommy Premiere

I had the privilege of attending the premier of Wo Ai Ni Mommy today, shown as part of the 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Also present, was the director, Stephanie Wang-Breal and Donna Sadowsky, the adoptive mom, both of whom took a Q&A session at the end of the film.

There will be spoilers in what I write so if you don't want to know, stop reading.

First, before I go into the film itself, I have to tell you what Donna's very first words were when asked if she had any comments when she was introduced. It's important to know that she and her husband, Jeff, had two biological sons and one daughter adopted from China before adopting Faith. She said that she and her husband took a very long time to decide whether or not to participate in this documentary. They were very concerned how Faith would feel about having a camera around for so much of the time and even later, once she understood what it meant, how she'd feel about her life being made public. They finally decided that it was for the greater good of all the older waiting children that this film be made, hoping that if it convinced even one family to adopt an older child, it would be worth it. There was also the strictest condition that if, at any time, Faith didn't want it or seem uncomfortable with it, then the camera would leave. There are parts in the film where it seems that Faith is conscious of the camera, but in retrospect, it's also more likely that she was appealing to Stephanie, behind the camera, to convey her thoughts and feelings to Donna even when Faith herself could not articulate them.

Second, the reason that Stephanie, the director, chose this family after interviewing over a hundred families was that they felt an instant relationship and it was extremely important for her that the child be old enough to be able to tell her side of the story as it unfolded.

Third, Donna travelled without her husband to China to get Faith because their youngest daughter wouldn't understand the special attention Faith needed and they didn't want anything to detract from what Faith needed.

Fourth, Stephanie travelled with Donna and was the only person involved in China with making the documentary. Meaning, she held the camera and there was no other crew present at all during this time.

And, fifth, the advantage of this arrangement meant that Stephanie was able to be a translator for Faith and Donna because Stephanie is Chinese and fluent in Mandarin.

At the time of finding, Faith was estimated to be 2 years old. Donna thinks she was a little older than that. At the time of adoption, Faith was 8 years old. Faith has a special need. She had one club foot, surgically corrected (to a degree) in China and "drop-wrists." She had been in foster care until just before her adoption when she went to the orphanage again for a short period of time.

The orphanage staff member who escorted Faith on adoption day was VERY patient and understanding. They all sat together for a very long time and only when Faith seemed comfortable and willing, did anyone leave. Faith was smiling as they left the Civil Affairs Office.

At the hotel, Donna had flash cards of pictures of things like, pizza, milk, etc... and during the course of their stay, she encouraged Faith to repeat the English words. At one point, it seemed that Donna was forcing Faith too hard to keep doing this and Faith kept saying how hard it was and that she wanted to play. Faith seemed despondent. This was the only time in the film that I felt uncomfortable with Donna's actions. However, as I got to "know" Faith throughout the rest of the film, it is clear that she is a very bright and VERY dramatic girl who is definitely as sassy and defiant as any 8 yr. old can be.

During the Q&A session, Donna was asked how she felt when she saw herself in the film when it was completed and her first reaction was, "Oh, my gosh, I'm a bitch." Of course, she realizes that she had to be firm to prove to Faith that she was setting limits out of love, but that most of all, she knew that in order to survive, Faith not only needed to learn English as soon as possible, but have the DESIRE to learn. She mentioned that she and Jeff had considered hiring a translator but realized it would only serve as a crutch and prevent Faith from learning and when she got to know Faith, she knew she'd made the best decision in this matter.

In another scene, Faith is acting out in response to going to school. She wouldn't bring her books in. She later told her mom that she couldn't carry them due to her disability. Donna felt terrible and apologized in the film, but told us at the premier that she'd been suckered and that Faith was perfectly capable of carrying her books.

The film portrays the gamut of emotions that Faith went through and all of us in the audience laughed and cried and held out breaths as we watched.

The one thing that impressed me the most about Faith's adoption experience was the fact that she was able to have lunch with her foster family at the hotel and keep in touch with them via phone, email and a Skype-like system. It was very positive and really helped Faith's transition. In fact, Faith's foster sister's adoption paperwork was being prepared during the documentary. I'm sorry I didn't remember to ask Donna if she knew what the status was on that. I know that they planned to keep in touch and, if possible, find out where she's adopted to and see if the girls can meet.

Faith could speak Cantonese and Mandarin at the time of her adoption but within a year, lost most of it, despite being in 3 hrs. of Chinese school per week. Donna plans to hire a tutor for both girls (Faith's sister is also in Chinese school) so they have more exposure to using the languages and retaining them. Donna and Stephanie both feel that the language skills are still deep in Faith but that she's chosen to neglect them in order to be American. This is an apparently common occurrence with immigrant children within their biological families, too.

It was extremely interesting to me to learn what Faith believed about the racial differences and how she handled them. She didn't understand why a caucasian woman would want a Chinese daughter. It helped a lot that Donna already had one daughter from China. At one point, Donna and Jeff did consult an adoption psychologist to help them understand better what Faith was going through concerning this. Adoptive parents may be astonished at what Faith thought about this and how verbal she was in expressing it.

I am very glad that I had the chance to see this film and be a part of the premier and meet Stephanie and Donna and hear their experiences first-hand. I'm grateful for the emotions I experienced while watching it because I feel it will better prepare me for the day when I meet my own daughter and give me a greater understanding for what she will go through. I believe this film should be on the must-see list for any adoptive parents, especially those adopting an older child, but even those adopting infants because their children will one day be old enough to have many of the same issues that Faith and her parents did.

Wo Ai Ni Mommy is a film that can be very beneficial to adopted children, too, as it may bring up many topics of discussion that they might hesitate to bring up on their own. Of course, I strongly advise parents to view it first and decide on the appropriateness for their own children since each child and family is unique.


Donna said...

Thank you for coming down to see the film and I hope you enjoyed it. One thing that I wish I had addressed in the Q & A was the time frame of Faith's "english lessons". I only asked Faith to go over the flash cards and other english material for about 20 minutes a day, which I didn't and still don't feel is unreasonable. The film really gave the impression that I was drilling her for hours! I do hope that the film will be helpful to other prospective adoptive parents, which as I said, was the main reason we agreed to do the film!

Donna Sadowsky

Anonymous said...

I think this is just one of the things the film did incorrectly in showing the process. I don't see the film being helpful to prospective adoptive parents except as an example of what not to do. Wish it had been more accurate as to what the actual process was for all of you.

I think a lot of times documentary film makers really don't get the point their film is actually making. I think when you're trying so hard to tell a particular story that you have in your head, you can miss the story that's actually happening.