New documentary opens dialogue on identity

Haley Butler, pictured, is one of the subjects of “Somewhere Between,” in theaters now.

“Do you think America is really a melting pot — or a salad?”

When a teenaged boy asked director Linda Knowlton this thought-provoking question in response to a screening of her new documentary, “Some­where Between,” at this year’s Sundance Film Forward Festival, the filmmaker’s interest peaked; the question signified the theme of her film precisely.

“Do all the pieces of our identities truly melt together, or are they just individual salad bar pieces that you mix in a bowl, but are still separate? I love that analogy,” she tells Metro.

“Somewhere Between,” in theaters now, explores the racial, gender and social issues of four teenage girls who were abandoned by their birth families in China and subsequently adopted in America. As Fang, Jenna, Ann and Haley search for their families and their own heritage, the film delivers a heartbreaking revelation to its audience: These abandonment issues are not at all uncommon.

China’s One Child Policy in 1979 resulted in the rejection of thousands of children; today, roundly 80,000 Chinese girls have been adopted in the U.S. — and most never locate their original families.

As the documentary opens, Knowlton holds her own Chinese-adopted baby, Ruby, and asks: “How will I be able to help her build a strong sense of identity when there are so many missing pieces from the early parts of her life?” Although a large number of adoptees and foster parents all over the world must address this same question, Knowlton says that her film still pertains to the general population who are not affiliated with adoption.

“There’s something universal about people trying to find, define and understand themselves — because at different stages in our lives, we’re all ‘somewhere between’ in some way,” she says. “We’re between being a child and an adult, we’re between a teenager and an adult, between careers, between being dependent and independent.” The list goes on.

Still, if the girls in “Somewhere Between” represent the issues of a much larger pool of identity-stricken teens, then perhaps there is hope. Despite their hurdles, each girl is now successfully pursuing her dreams — Fang, Jenna and Ann are continuing their education at such prestigious college institutions as Yale University and Mount Holyoke, while Haley won the title of Miss Outstanding Teen Tennessee. They prove that identity issues don’t have to be an excuse to shy away from one’s potential.


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