'Somewhere Between' explores search for identity by adoptees from China

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They are four young women from different regions of the United States, negotiating the waters of high school, the social challenges, career goals.

Yet they have one thing in common. Fang "Jenny" Lee, Haley Butler, Ann Boccuti (a junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Jenna Cook were adopted from China as children. Their story informs "Somewhere Between," a 2011 documentary by director/producer Linda Goldstein Knowlton, that explores what it means to search for self.

It will be screened Monday at the University of Pittsburgh's Posvar Hall.

The 7:30 p.m. event will be followed by a panel including Ms. Goldstein Knowlton; Sarah Springer, medical director of International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania; and Penny Edwards, who was adopted from South Korea.

Although Ms. Edwards is a social worker for Catholic Charities, she will not be present in an official capacity.

"This is a coming-of-age story, it's a universal story, coming from four very specific points of view. The themes are very universal, the big picture of exploring identity," said Ms. Goldstein Knowlton, producer on "Whale Rider" and the 2013 emergency room doc, "Code Black."

The four women -- now a few years older -- are first introduced as young teens. The American way of life is pretty much all they've known, but they're aware of feeling "somewhere between" the two cultures.

"I'm a banana. I'm yellow on the outside, white on the inside," Ms. Butler says. Another refers to herself as "scrambled eggs."

They express varying degrees of interest in returning to China, to discover their roots and possibly the reasons why they were given up by their biological families. Ms. Goldstein Knowlton cautions the film is for those 14 and older because of the intense themes.

"They [viewers] cry, but it is a cathartic cry," she said. "It's not often that people are allowed to, and invited to, get in touch with deep feelings. As human beings, we've all experienced loss on one level or another, so to be able to explore that ... I think they'll be happy to be given that opportunity."

Ms. Edwards took her daughter, 20, to an earlier screening, "and she sobbed through the whole thing," she said.

"I actually love it [the film]. It raises so many questions of great complexity," Ms. Edwards said.

Abandoned on a street in Incheon by a relative when she was tiny, Ms. Edwards said she was placed in foster care for 8 months before being adopted by an American family. As an adult, she returned to seek her foster family, to no avail.

"I would love for parents to come to Monday night's event; this could be a great film for anyone with teenagers who have talked about birth search," Ms. Edwards said.

"The whole idea was being able to empower these young women and by virtue, let all these adoptees know that they have a voice. I specifically made this film from a girls' point of view because it is their story, their experience," Ms. Goldstein Knowlton said.

It is also the voice of her daughter, Ruby, who is one of the almost 80,000 girls adopted out of China since the late 1980s. At age 8, Ruby is too young to see much more than the bookend segments that feature her in the film.

"She did say 'what about the rest of the movie?' and I told her 'Well, it's for grown-ups,' " Ms. Goldstein Knowlton said.

"She said 'Oh, I bet there's a lot of blah blah blah in it.' "

More information on the film can be found at www.somewherebetweenmovie.com, and a special two-disk DVD set includes interviews with adoption and health experts that were cut from the film.

"There was a certain point where we realized we were never going to put them in the film because the young women told the stories themselves, and we didn't want any of these 'grown-ups' interrupting them," the filmmaker said.

The panel, presented by the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies, the Three Rivers Families With Children from China, Pitt's Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and Steeltown Entertainment, among others, might have included Ms. Boccuti, the IUP student.

"But she's in Shanghai, studying abroad," Ms. Goldstein Knowlton said.

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Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or @MariaSciulloPG.


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