Producer Linda Goldstein Knowlton who produced one of my favorite films ever -- Whale Rider -- steps behind the camera to direct a film for her daughter Ruby whom she adopted from China. The film is a beautiful valentine to a group of girls and their fierce parents stuggling to forge their own identities "Somewhere Between."
Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton answered some questions about her film.
Women and Hollywood: How did you come up with the title?
Linda Goldstein Knowlton: We struggled with finding the tittle for a long time. I originally called it The Sisterhood, referring to the 80,000 girls adopted from China and now living in the US (plus the 80,000ish living in countries around the world). The girls never really liked the title - they said it was too close to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. So I asked them over the three years of making the film to come up with new ideas. Ultimately, it was something that Jenna said in one of her interviews that helped us find the title. The girls are somewhere between childhood and adulthood, somewhere between cultures.
WaH: How are you going to explain to Ruby as to why you felt compelled to make this film?
LGK: I will tell her that I made the film for her: From the moment I held her in my arms, I started to think about what her life would be like when she became a teenager. I couldn’t stop thinking about it in terms of her search for identity - I remembered my own search - but hers might be so different. How could I be there for her? I realized that I had the opportunity to explore all of my questions with many “experts” – there were tens of thousands of these girls who were now teenagers, living across all 50 states. I chose to follow four girls, trying to represent a diversity of experience and geography, and see what they had to say.
WaH: How did you find the girls to participate in the film?
LGK: For my search to find the four girls, I got help from two wonderful organizations: Families with Children from China and Chinese Adoptee Links. FCC has chapters all across North America, and both Jeri Floyd of FCC-SoCal and Peggy Scott of FCC-NoCal helped me immeasurably in the making of this film, and Peggy in particular in introducing me to Fang in Berkeley.. And Jennifer Jue-Steuk, founder of CAL, introduced me to Jenna, Ann, and Haley....and I will always be grateful to her for that!
WaH: What was the hardest part of making this film?
LGK: The hardest part of making this film is actually a tie: being away from my daughter and raising the money to make the film. The irony never escaped me that I was away from my daughter in order to make this film for her. And raising money for docs is always hard, but this was somehow especially difficult. A good friend told me that if I ever start a doc again without having funds, she would do an intervention. I've had several people second-and-third that notion.
WaH: What did you learn about yourself during this process?
LGK: I learned, viscerally, something that I knew intellectually: that I cannot protect my daughter from the difficulties as she may encounter in her search for her own identity, and that she will be OK. She has a sisterhood to share the experience with, in addition to her family.
WaH: Was the transition from producing to directing difficult and what advice would you have for people who are interested in making the shift?
LGK: I made the transition to directing documentaries with the great help of my Co-Director on The World According to Sesame Street, Linda Hawkins Costigan. She was a gracious teacher, and a wonderful collaborator. Additionally, working with Kate Amend as our director - two of her films have won Academy Awards - we had the greatest mentor, teacher, and collaborator anyone could ask for. She's BRILLIANT!
WaH: Do you have the directing bug now? Are you planning on making another film?
LGK: I'm still producing scripted features, and I am already working on a new documentary project with Norman Lear and Lara Bergthold. It is about the Declaration of Independence and the relevance of the document today. And it will be fun and engaging - I promise!
WaH: What do you want people to get out of the film?
LGK: I made a film about adolescence and what going through it is like for a specific group of girls. Adolescence is always about wanting desperately to be individuals, and also about wanting desperately to fit in. For every teenager it’s about finding that balance. And for every teenager there are issues that make finding it hard. These girls are totally unique and totally like every teenager everywhere—in the world. They illuminate, beautifully, the universal search for identity that we all have. I hope that people come away from the film with a better understanding of themselves, and compassion for others.
WaH: What did you have to leave on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have kept in the film?
LGK: Oh, there was so much great stuff I wished I could have included in the film....but I promise, much of it will be on the DVD 'extras'! Additionally, I interviewed several experts in the fields of adoption and child development; as the girls told their own stories so well, I didn't need or want the experts to interrupt the flow of the film. I do plan on cutting an educational companion piece with the experts, as well as some footage of the girls that didn't make it in the film. I am looking for funding for that companion piece now.
(This story was originally published on June 22, 2011)