by Catherine Tan
“Somewhere Between” is a wonderfully unassuming title for such an honest, well-crafted, and surprisingly complex documentary that surpasses all expectations. But even though the film is dedicated to Ruby, the ten-month-old adopted daughter of director Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the film is not about her. Rather, it’s about Fang, Haley, Jenna and Anna–Chinese girls who were raised in orphanages until, like Ruby, they were adopted and brought to new homes in the United States. And it is by interviewing them and recording their adoption experiences, which have never truly ended, that Knowlton hopes to gain the answers to the questions Ruby will inevitably ask when the time comes.
The four girls are portrayed as distinct individuals. There is no mistaking the warmhearted and socially conscious Fang for driven, overachieving Jenna, hopeful and sweet Haley, or feisty, opinionated Anna. Haley and Fang end up having the strongest stories because theirs are the most complete.
By focusing on the two of them, the filmmakers manage to capture a strikingly comprehensive story of adoption. Fang shares heartbreaking memories of being abandoned by her relatives and eventually helps a little girl with her own adoption, while Haley embarks on an inspiring story that will give strength to other children searching for information about their birth parents.
Both girls are well-spoken and communicative. Fang’s kindness is effortlessly endearing while Haley seems to radiate with hope and inner conviction. Yet it is together that the girls present a picture of what it means to be one of them. Despite their commonalities, they have different backgrounds, different levels of assimilation with Chinese and American culture and different responses to wanting to know about their birth parents.
In many ways, “Somewhere Between” is exactly what a documentary should be. The camera is unobtrusive, allowing the girls to be open and vulnerable, and sometimes cry without reservation or even wiping away their tears. Unlike more agenda-driven films, “Somewhere Between” serves as a real piece of historical record. However, the film was flawed in the way that it used vaguely manipulative music to serve as a backdrop for the particularly emotional moments. Additionally, for a film that was so honest, it contained a small level of reservation, as the subjects often seemed to hold back and not fully open up when discussing their identities.
But perhaps this is an unavoidable flaw, because in the end, this is still a film for Ruby. It is the lack of concern for the opinion of the audience that seems to allow the camera its freedom from anyone else’s agenda. And despite that, “Somewhere Between” remains effortlessly and irresistibly moving and emotionally resonant. Knowlton closes the film by concluding that “Ruby’s journey will be her own and the questions will be hers to ask.” Similarly, “Somewhere Between” does not seek to provide anyone their answers or beliefs but to simply portray, honestly, and sometimes heartbreakingly, the truth of four girls’ ongoing adoption stories.
Catherine Tan is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.