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.
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.
This Part 2 of their conversation. Catch up with Part 1 here.
Anita Gou: When we first came upon the Chins in the photos with Liu Hao, there was that moment when we wondered, could this be real? She said, it’s a needle in a haystack and everybody knows that. But we have the technology today to confirm. So sadly, with the test, it was a not what we had all hoped for. At the same time having the girls there alongside Liu Hao, spending all that time together they really bonded. Especially when we were in China together I think having that support allowed them to confront the other side and also having understanding from the parents’ perspective that there are two parties involved in the search. While there might not have been a match they were both that person for the each other. It was cathartic.
All three girls are so amazing in terms of articulating difficult emotions. Amanda, I was wondering if it was harder or easier having one of them be your niece?
Amanda Lipitz: I feel like it’s the biggest professional risk I’ve ever taken. I am so grateful that my family loves the movie as much as they do. They feel heard.
The girls have always been top priority. Anita [Gou] and I and my editor, Penelope Falk and Jenny Raskin [Executive Producer] we all just wanted to make the girls proud. That was the feeling behind it all. It was constantly checking in with everyone parents.
Also, my incredible crew creates a family. We are a family too, so we think it’s important to create that atmosphere when bearing witness to something that needs to happen in someone’s life.
Even though it is such a personal and emotional story, this film couldn’t have been made without the technology of today: DNA testing, FaceTime, etc. Starting with how the three girls built their relationship over FaceTime – allowing cameras on them at the same time.
Amanda Lipitz: They’re teenagers growing up today — this is how they talk. For us to eavesdrop on these moments was [one thing] – but to them this was their life and they were just living it. I think that all of them said to me in individual ways this is the first time I’ve ever spoken to a blood relative in my life. You realize how big that is.
And how technology serves to connect us. That’s where the whole film comes in to play because my brother and sister-in-law put Chloe’s DNA into 23 and me as a fact-finding mission for her health. Then they switched to looking for relatives. We didn’t know 18 years ago the world to change this way. And then came COVID — we had no idea how the world was going to change. Technology helped us stay in it, helped build these relationships. It enabled us to tell a story.
This is why we called the film Found – because they found each other and found the nannies, we found Liu Hao and then you find yourself. What does it mean to be found yourself — to find yourself? And it comes down to technology – it helps you find things.
Anita Gou: When we finally met in person at the premiere in New York, it was a big reunion. Everybody has been apart for a whole year because of COVID. And even for us – meeting for the crew for the first time because we had to do everything remotely. And then we watched the film and we saw when the girls all meet in China before the pandemic – we had no idea how the world was going to change.
Technology helped us stay in and build these relationships beyond anyway we realize before. For the girls, at their age, there’s no distinction – you’ll build a connection however with whatever is available to you. That enabled us to tell the story.
In terms of your brother (Chloe’s father), I would imagine the older generation might give you a harder time about filming their life… How did you pull that part off?
Amanda Lipitz: My family’s pretty adventurous, we’re always up for an adventure. But my family also really believes in Tikkun Olam – which is Hebrew for “Repairing the World.” We all really believe in that: that [for] my parents my siblings , [that] is one way we could do it.
Which part of the story in the film surprised you the most?
Amanda Lipitz: Liu Hao turned the story in a way we didn’t expect. The documentary gods shined upon you. I just wanted to learn where was this amazing woman going to take us.
And I don’t think it was surprise but it was a beautiful thing to watch the girls fall in love with one another.
Anita Gou: When Lily talks about the first 13 months of her life being a total mystery to her. It seems it meant so much to her, this lost time. So Amanda and I wondered, what mysteries are we going to be able to solve for these girls. And we didn’t know until we walked into the orphanage to meet her nanny – and when she said “Lily grew up here for the first 13 months of her life,” it was a blessed moment.
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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