By Christina Kiely
Found is the story of Chloe, Lilly and Sadie, who were all born in China and adopted by white American families. At the age of 16, through the DNA service 23andMe, the girls learn that they are cousins. The documentary beautifully explores the complex emotions of every person involved in each of the adoptions. Found is a compassionately told story of the girls finding one another, finding their homeland, and finding themselves.
Director Amanda Lipitz and Producer Anita Gou spoke with me about the experience of making the film and the powerful and often unexpected stories that emerged in the process.
Christina Kiely: Tell me how the film came about, and about the moment you knew you had a documentary.
Amanda Lipitz: So with all of my films I start with one image that really inspires me – Chloe is my niece and my brother told me that she was having her Bat Mitzvah at The Wall in Jerusalem. And the image of my niece, surrounded by our big Jewish family… I knew I wanted to film that. Around the same time they’d discovered Chloe had a cousin. So I started to capture their stories.
The fact that you had one girl raised Jewish, one raised Catholic, and one raised Baptist… it seemed meant to be.
Amanda Lipitz: So many things about the film were meant to be. Even in the discovery of Liu Hao the genealogist, for example, she is such an amazing woman and she became our fourth girl, in such an amazing moment for the film.
At what point did she become that for you? Was it a surprise or were you looking for someone to fill that role?
Amanda Lipitz: Anita and I would talk about – that it would be amazing if the girls could talk to someone in China, that was a young woman who grew up during the one child policy in China and give us that perspective. It would be so great if that could happen organically. So when Liu Hao was introduced to us, all we knew was that she was from the same hometown as the girls. We did not know her story. That moment on the bridge was the first time we heard her whole story.
You did an incredibly sensitive job at looking at this story from all these different points of view. Being so understanding of everybody – from the people who gave up their children, the girls, to the adoptive parents – is that just who you are or did you have to think that through?
Amanda Lipitz: I would say that’s the type of storyteller I am, it wasn’t something I had to think through. I just wanted to tell the story of these girls. And see them come of age and see those dormant questions grow louder. As long as I stayed true to that everything else fell into place.
Anita Gou (Producer): When I first met Amanda she’d been following Chloe, Lily, and Sadie for a couple of years. I start talking to her about the story she was trying to tell through these girls, I felt this drive to explore – no matter statistics or the history, she goes for what is the human experience behind all of that. In this case, I was drawn to her desire to unpack a lot these inherent stereotypes that we’re attached to: Asian Women’s experiences, Asian American experiences or being a teenager. And there’s much more to these identities and the back-stories that we often don’t get to see. I think the girls in their journeys organically lead us to these places in the same way, with Liu Hao and the families in China did as well.
The other people I found so moving where the nannies. Can you tell me about how you included them and what you were expecting?
Amanda Lipitz: I’ve always been interested in the nannies. You see in that video, when Li Lan hands Chloe to my sister in-law for the first time. I looked at this woman and she had this smile on her face but there was sadness in her eyes. There were tears there. Chloe was 15 months old. She had cared for this child for 15 months. I wondered who that woman was. In the film she says, “You know we nannies are not coldhearted.” It’s just a beautiful moment. We found the most incredible group of nannies and women and they really are, as Liu Hao says, the frontline workers.
They were incredible and NOT coldhearted – such as the one who went to medical school to make sure the children had proper medical care and the other one who took the children home because there wasn’t enough space at the orphanage – it was incredible. And you felt that they genuinely remembered the girls?
Amanda Lipitz: You know some people feel like, how could they remember? We didn’t really think about that because the nannies wanted to remember and the girls needed to be remembered. They had all had the silent trauma and we as outsiders needed to bear witness to it – the silent trauma that they can’t always verbalize.
NYWIFT presented and Industry Screening of Found, followed by a Q& with Anita Gou and Amanda Lipitz on November 9, 2021. Watch the full recording of the conversation below:
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