Tag Archives: Adoption

VIFF 2019 Review: Joel

Joel

Joel is the story of an Argentinian family’s adoption of a boy, and the difficulties that come with it.

Joel is a family drama from Argentina. It’s based on an adoption scenario that tells more about the society than about the adoption process.

Cecilia and Diego are a couple in a small Argentinean mountain town of Tolhuin in the Patagonian forests. Cecilia is a music teacher and Diego is a successful forester. They’ve been hoping to start a family, but it hasn’t worked out. They decide to pursue the Argentinean adoption system. They’ve received news their request from the government has been granted. They also learn about a boy who is up for adoption. They’re told he’s eight years old and his name is Joel.

They are informed that Joel is actually nine years old. Joel comes from a troubling family background in Buenos Aires. His mother died and was soon looked after by his uncle and grandmother. His uncle soon ended up in prison and Joel had since been committed to institutions. Cecilia and Diego are both excited and nervous about taking on Joel. They look forward to being his parents, but are cautious about what they might have to deal with. The two meet Joel for the first time. The two are both excited and nervous while Joel is quiet and shy.

Cecilia and Diego make the efforts to be parents to Joel. They give him his own room and allow him to pick out his own clothes. There’s a party to introduce Joel to the family. Samuel and Virginia, a religious couple whom they are friends with, are pleased to meet Joel. Cecilia and Diego also enroll Joel into the town school. They have a lot of high hopes, but are nervous.

One day, they find a cellphone in Joel’s drawers that’s not his. They return it to the school but the people aren’t happy. Then Cecilia receives word that Joel will have to be given a teaching schedule different from the other students and separated from them. The reason why is made unclear to Cecilia at first. The teacher reveals that Joel has been telling the children stories about doing drugs.

This is alarming the parents. The outrage has gotten to the point that the parents do not want their children to be around Joel. This is having a strain on the relationship of Cecilia and Diego. Those close to them, including Samuel and Virginia, are distancing themselves from them. Even Diego’s boss weighs in about what is to be done with Joel. Cecelia is even told if she gives up on Joel, he could be sent back to the institutions where he eventually grows up to live a life of crime and die young.

There’s a school meeting about what is to be done with Joel’s educational setting. The meeting is fiery with many parents speaking out their hostility. One of the mothers confronts Cecilia and tells her that she was adopted too and the attitudes that are happening are similar to what she experienced. Then the teacher and school director finally meet with Cecilia to discuss their final decision. It’s a decision they’re optimistic with. They have decided to have Joel spend six months in a ‘special school’ up in the mountains where they believe he will be better-adjusted in time to have him brought back to the school. Cecilia is not happy with the result. Diego insists she goes along with it because his boss believes it’s the right thing. As Cecilia is about to drive Joel to his temporary school, she makes her own critical decision on the matter.

This film tells of an adoption story in Argentina. However the film does show a lot of elements that one anywhere in the world can identify with. There’s the legal process which is common in most countries; there’s the fact that Diego and Cecilia will be parenting for the first time ever; there’s the adoption of a boy from a troubling background from the big city; there’s trying to get the boy to fit into a smalltown setting. There’s even the mission of the Argentinian adoption system: “Our aim is to find parents for the children, not children for the parents”.

Here in North America today, adoption should be a non-issue. Some countries or cultures may have a negative stigma about adoption whether it be the adoption process or about the children adopted. I’m not knowledgeable at all about how most Argentinians view adoption. All I know is the laws stated in the film and nothing else. However I did see a theme that we commonly see even in towns or villages of developed countries like Canada and the US. A city kid is taken into a home in the countryside to be given a life and a family. What happens is ostracism not just of the kids, but of the parents too. Even a client of Diego’s weighs his own opinion on this. The film shows a common theme of smalltown narrow-mindedness where they can be hostile to outsiders. In this case, we have the children, parents and teachers that are mostly against Joel being in the town and schools. Lines like “Our children are pure and live in a lovely town. Why should they have to put up with him?” sound like they’re echoes from common-talk. That scene of the mother who was adopted and faced similar flack says a lot about these attitudes.

The quality of the story also gets the audience involved and gets them wondering who or what to side with. Joel appears harmless, but he comes from a troubled background in Buenos Aires. Cecilia and Diego took Joel away to give him a family life and to take him away from the inner city threats that could endanger him, including from his own blood-family. Joel acts harmless around the house, but the teachers, parents and students all tell a different story. You even see things that make you wonder like how Joel arrived with a packet containing a lighter, money and a toy, or even the cellphone he either found or stole. You never see Joel do any of the things those parents say he does, but even if Joel said those words or stole the phone, this is very common among children his age. Wrong, but common among boys his age. It’s the people’s overreactions that are causing the problem.

In the meantime, this causes problems with both Joel and the family. They’re undecided about what to do or what actions to take. It’s right at the end where Cecilia makes her decision. I think that’s the biggest quality of the film. The film is about a story that’s very down to earth and is something a lot of families can relate to. It’s about facing the difficulties of doing the right thing. It’s about trying to give love to a child with quite a backstory, but trying to be a parent and doing what’s right. It’s about trying to get acceptance in a place where the hidden narrow mindedness comes out. I don’t think the story is meant to defame Tolhuin in any which way, but it presents itself as a story that can happen in any Argentinian town. It’s a story the audience can easily put themselves in the shoes of Cecilia and Diego. What would they do? What’s the best thing for Joel? It even gets the audience asking what would you do?

This film is a very good film from writer/director Carlos Sorin. Sorin is one of the most renowned directors from Argentina. 2002’s Historias Minimas is his most renowned work to date having won him many film festival awards including the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival. What he delivers in Joel is a film that lacks the envelope-pushing and artistic daringness that one expects to have as film festival fare. Not every film at the VIFF aims to be artistically daring or provocative or experimental. Sometimes the films at the VIFF are films that are among the best their country has to offer. Sorin is a director with a reputation. He places reality on the film screen and tries to make a statement with the story. He succeeds in doing so in Joel. He presents an example of a situation and gets one thinking of the attitudes that he sees in Argentina. There was a lot of good acting, but it’s Victoria Almeida that is the centerpiece of the film as Cecelia. She holds the story together as it mostly revolves around Cecelia and her desire to be a mother and to do what she needs to. Especially for Joel.

Joel is a family drama that tells of an adoption story in Argentina, but there are many elements of the story that one can see happening close to home. The story succeeds with messages that cross borders and cultural barriers.

VIFF 2014 Review – The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir

The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked forJerry Garcia.

The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked for Jerry Garcia.

When you think of the Grateful Dead, who’s the first person that comes to mind? Jerry Garcia, right? Even though Jerry is the most famous member, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir is also a key part of the band. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a documentary focusing on Weir both as a member of the Grateful Dead and his own personal life.

Bobby weir was born in San Francisco in 1947 and was adopted by a well-to-do family. He had an adopted brother and a sister born to his adoptive parents. However Booby grew up a very restless boy. He was expelled from schools within a matter of months. However he developed a passion for the guitar at a young age. There’s even mention of how excited he was when he got a guitar for Christmas. At a young age, he caught the attention of a band playing in the back alley of a Palo Alto spot. They were the Grateful Dead. They took a liking to Booby and the rest is history.

The funny thing about Bobby is that he was a bit of an oddity with the Dead. The other members of the Dead describe themselves as ‘uglies’ and Booby as a ‘cutie’ and they describe the Grateful Dead in its early days as ‘Bobby and the four uglies.’ It seemed like a good break to be welcomed into a band at such a young age but his parents were firm on his education and reminded the other dead members of that.

Over time the San Francisco music scene of the 60’s would rise and eventually become a permanent fixture on pop culture and even definers of the counterculture of that period. The Grateful Dead themselves would become synonymous with the psychedelia of that time. But even before that happens, the documentary pays attention to the band’s first few years trying to make a name for themselves. It reminds you they had to struggle with small gigs just like many other bands before them. Then they signed onto a big label. Then they went from playing in bars to playing in concert halls. Then came the Deadheads: a group of people that stayed loyal to the band year after year, decade after decade. A loyalty not seen before in rock ‘n roll.

Even despite playing music and hitting the big time, the documentary shows of the friendship Weir had with the band. It was of a family nature to the point that Weir almost ignored his own family. The family relation with the other bands did take challenges of their own. The first sign was in the 1980’s when they made a comeback which included a chart-topping album for the first time with 1987’s ‘In The Dark’ and the single ‘Touch Of Grey.’ There was the focus of Jerry Garcia’s cult-of-personality: something Jerry didn’t really welcome in his life. There were even times Bob took personal vacations. Then there was the time Jerry was going through rehab and Bobby acted as a support for him up until his dying day.

It doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on how Weir decided to finally settle down after decades of womanizing with Natascha Munter. The two wed when he was 52 and they have two daughters. Even then the trip wasn’t over. Weir tried to learn of his birth parents. He learned of his mother after she died that she had gave birth to 12 children. He was able to meet up with his birth father and the two have been close ever since.

This documentary is definitely one for people who like biographies of musicians or biography shows in particular.  No question Deadheads young and old will want to see this. In fact I remember seeing a wide range of people in the audience watching this documentary. It’s possible some of the seniors in the audience may have been amongst the first generation of Deadheads. If you only care about musicians and their star power, this is not for you. Also if you’re a Deadhead simply because of Jerry Garcia, this will remind you that you’re not a true Deadhead. It’s not just a biography but gives you a feel of the music Bob helped create and continues to play whenever he performs with surviving members of the Dead. The mix of biography with live performances of his music really adds into the feel of it.

The documentary doesn’t really offer anything original as far as documentary film making goes. What it does is showcase a musician’s life that is a life less ordinary. The stories of how he was adopted and how he got into a lot of trouble as a kid will surely raise eyebrows and even a giggle or two. However seeing how he was able to settle down in his older years and even meet up with his adoptive father in recent years shows this is no ordinary life. The intimacy of the biography doesn’t stop with his personal life. It also shows how Bob treated the other Dead members like family even more than he treated his own. In fact hearing from Jerry’s daughter how Bob was like a brother to Jerry up until his last days shows how much the other members meant to him.

The are some flaws with the documentary. Most noticeably, it focuses almost exclusively on his music with the Grateful Dead and hardly ever focuses on his music with his other bands like Kingfish, RatDog, Booby and the Midnites and Furthur. Also the documentary made him look like he was a swinger all his life before Natascha. There’s no mention of his seven-year relationship with Frankie Hart back in the 70’s.

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a very good documentary to watch even if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead. It was time well spent for me. It reminds you there are a lot of great rock ‘n roll musicians that contributed a lot to the genre but don’t get the star status as many others.

VIFF 2012 Review – High Five: An Adoption Saga

The Wards and their five adopted children are the focus in the documentary High Five.

High Five is a documentary filmed over a five-year period. It’s a story about international adoption and about a couple’s iron will to let their heart win out over politics, finances, and inter-family strife in their attempt to adopt and parent five Ukrainian siblings. We don’t get what we expect to have but we do get an eye opener on the subject of international adoption and the lives of all seven.

We first meet Cathy and Martin Ward, a couple from Surrey, BC who’ve always wanted children. A car accident to Cathy ten years earlier to which she constantly needs operations for even now makes pregnancy very risky. They first decided to play host to a 7 year-old Ukrainian orphan named Alyona in 2006. During the visit, they learn that Alyona have additional siblings. They bring Alyona with her next oldest sibling Snezana the next year. The following year they visit all five at the orphanage in Gorodnya, Ukraine. They decide to adopt all five but laws allow them to only adopt two at the time. They first adopt Alyona and Snezana but promise the other three–Older siblings Yulia and Sergey and youngest sibling brother Sascha–that they will adopt them the following year. Politics delay the adoption of the other two siblings for years. After much struggle–political, financial and emotional–the three other siblings are finally adopted. Problem solved, right?

Not completely. Even before the full adoption process we learn of potential problems that could arise. The five come from an abusive household in Ukraine where their mother died and their stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. It took the courts to remove the children from the stepfather and put them in the orphanage. All five remember the abuse very well. The gap between the two adoption periods also has an effect on the siblings too as there’s a sense Yulia has lost some feelings to the two others. One thing to keep in mind is that Yulia, the oldest daughter of the five, acted as the mother figure to her four younger siblings in the orphanage. There are also the health problems of the two. Martin is a nurse at the BC Children’s Hospital but Cathy needs frequent surgery from her car accident and Martin has a bout of the flesh-eating virus. Sergey himself has a growth stunt that has slowed his growing down to which he’s only 4’6″ at the age of 17. The adoption process is also a financial risk. The process was very costly and Martin would have to take a nursing job in the territories to help make finances more manageable. Then there’s the fact that the siblings are growing up. There’s always growing pains and approaching adulthood for some. Even Sergey returns to Ukraine temporarily for better job opportunities.

The biggest difficulty appears to be the relationship of the family with Yulia. Yulia has always been a sensitive and emotional girl. Since the adoption, Yulia would now have to go from the mother-figure to the parented. This does not fit well with her as she’s so used to being the mother figure. Her relationship with Martin is mostly unaffected but it’s sour with Cathy. The bad vibe also doesn’t go well with the other siblings as they find her hard to stand, even Sergey whom she’s always been the closest with. On top of it, she’s a growing girl who’s graduating from high school, working a job, has a boyfriend and is entering adulthood. She had made two trips to Ukraine both for employment purposes and to meet with another sibling of theirs who was adopted by a Ukrainian family.

The documentary ends with Yulia still in Ukraine. She still has a negative attitude: “I have no mother.” The other four are still seen being parented by Martin and Cathy. The documentary ends with the six on a local snowboarding trip. As Martin looks out to them as they’re having fun, we’re left wondering what he’s thinking about as he watches them. As for the documentary’s ending, it ends with a ‘to be continued’ ending. It leaves off in the present as the continuing story that it is and leaves one asking questions. Will Yulia return to the family? Will the five be one again? Will any of the other sibling try to pursue opportunities in Ukraine? Those are questions only time has the answers for.

This documentary is a good example of international adoption and how it doesn’t always worked out as wished. It didn’t have a completely happy ending nor did it have a tragic ending. It just presents the story as is and is able to balance the positive aspects with the negative aspects. As I just said, this documentary ends without a real ending. It’s a story that continues to this day with the cameras no longer rolling and will have changes to the lives of all seven over the years. Nevertheless I wish the Wards and the five all the best in the future.

Directors Yulia Ivanova and Boris Ivanov did a very good job of filming this story which appears to be like a daily or yearly chronology of the adoption story over the five-year period. Even though most of the documentary is narrated by Martin, the story is seen through a wide variety of angles: both the parents and the siblings themselves. There are moments when it’s about the family and moments when it’s about one individual. They give the right focus for each situation. Sometimes they try to be mediators in this situation by attempting to help the interviewed subjects by giving advice behind the camera. That doesn’t become a weakness for the documentary. This documentary does give a feel of being like a reality show but this is not a ‘reality show’ as one would commonly associate with popular reality TV. There’s no sensationalism or explosive brattitudes. This is a real situation with real human emotions present and real problems and crises arising in the adoption process.

This is another documentary that’s meant more for the television than for the big screen. The fact that it’s produced in association with the Knowledge Network is the best example of why. From what I heard at the screening, it will be shown on The Knowledge Network in British Columbia in December. I have no information about whether there will be a DVD release for it. I feel it’s worth a DVD release since this is good teaching material. Those interested in international adoption will get a good experience to what it’s like and the potential risks that lay ahead.

High Five is as much a documentary that tells a story as it teaches. It presents a common story of international adoption that presents the viewer with the stories of the individuals as much as it does with the family. It’s worth watching.