Jean Strauss for State Rep

Posted on May 6th, 2018
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January 2018

Posted on February 7th, 2018
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What a wild year 2017 was, filled with so many experiences and emotions – with becoming a grandmother at the top of my list of ‘highs’…

2018 dawned with three major events:

Filming the enactment of Missouri’s Adoptee Rights Act on January 2nd was monumental. The ‘Show Me State’ was one of the last places I ever thought would pass access legislation. It was incredible to watch people I filmed a decade ago finally able to have that simple piece of paper (at the ages of 85 and 75!).

Second, I have at long last completed the film on the most significant US women’s single sculler in history. This has been one of the most meaningful projects in my life – and as I wait to see if KISS THE JOY: the story of Joan Lind Van Blom is chosen by festivals, I can’t wait to share her story with the world.

And last (but not least) I have decided to run for office. Running for State Representative of the Worcester 5th District is a dream, born during over a decade of filming and working with legislators from coast to coast. To have the privilege of serving my community, the way I have witnessed others serving their own, has been in a desire for years. There is much to learn and much to do. A new chapter. No matter the outcome, there will be new friends made and knowledge gained – and maybe a chance to make a difference…

January 2017

Posted on February 11th, 2017
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FINALLY. After an over three and a half decade battle, citizens adopted in New Jersey now have the right to receive their own original birth certificates. I stand in awe of the long-standing effort. The tenacity and resolve of Pam Hasegawa and many many other people in NJ-CARE is a testament to the power of citizens (and legislators) to right a wrong.

My first film, “The Triumvirate”, was going to be the only documentary I ever made on adoption. Then Pam asked me if I would come to New Jersey and make her group, NJ-CARE, a short public service announcement (PSA). That request changed my life forever and led to my documentary advocacy work creating films, from shorts to features, to help legislators and citizens understand what adopted citizens and first parents and adoptive parents go through when secrecy is imposed upon their lives forever.

In honor of the historic enactment of the New Jersey law, I have decided to put all my adoption films online for free – in perpetuity. This will include not only what’s been done, but also what’s next. There are many films I haven’t yet had a chance to cut (Rhode Island, Missouri, to name just a couple) and there is a feature in the works on New Jersey. “Citizen Adoptee” will take a while (I have the film on Joan Lind Van Blom to finish, and since my filming in NJ goes back to 2005, well, its going to take a little bit). But when it is completed, it will be available for all.

Fifty films are already available for your viewing at the ADOPTEE FILM CHANNEL. A dedicated website is also in the works.

Congratulations NJ-CARE! Bon apetit ALL!

November 2015

Posted on November 28th, 2015
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Sometimes, there is so much to say, I end up saying nothing. I have spent the three months since Joan died in silence, trying to organize footage and images and interviews from the days we spent working on her film – and yet in truth I have spent a great deal of time staring off into space.

It is daunting to tell the story of someone who was so special to so many people. Joan was a unique individual who touched many lives, as a racer and teammate, as a teacher and administrator, as a friend, as a wife and mother. Some days its feels impossible to capture her spirit, her wit and elegance, to do justice to her trust to tell her story. I find myself waiting for her nod of approval. But I know its time. I keep thinking of how she described her race in Montreal, the words that kept running through her head. “This is it, this is it, go for it.” I feel that way about cutting her film.

June 1st

June 1st

I wish for many things this holiday season. Peace on earth. A 32 TB Pegasus2 R8 Thunderbolt 2RAID hard drive. And another year with Joan Lind Van Blom. She made this planet a better place – and made 2015 a sacred and special time.

March 2015

Posted on March 17th, 2015
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I am making a film that has nothing to do with adoption for the first time in almost ten years. The subject is one of the women I’ve admired most in my life. Joan Lind Van Blom is an extraordinary athlete, the very first woman ever to earn an Olympic medal for the United States in rowing. She did this in a spectacular race in the 1976 Games, the first Olympics to include women’s rowing. Her silver medal was nearly a gold – and this against East Germans and Russians, in the worst lane on the Montreal course, in a cross wind, up against the rocks. For the last four decades, she has been an amazing ambassador for the sport, for both men and women. Setting the bar for all who would follow, Joan’s story underscores how far women can excel when given a chance to compete.

Joan Lind Van Blom Long Beach, 2015

Joan Lind Van Blom
Long Beach, 2015

As I begin this endeavor, I am reminded of the privilege that filmmaking affords. I am getting to tell the story of an idol of my youth, to immerse myself in a sport that long ago defined me – at least to myself. My camera lens is trained upon a magic athlete, who continues to inspire all in the rowing community to this day. What joy!

November 2014

Posted on November 5th, 2014
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Governor Pat Quinn lost his re-election bid in Illinois yesterday. He had come into office by replacing Rod Blagojevich, and then winning one term on his own. And somewhere in there, he signed HB 5428 – the bill that would provide Illinois adoptees with access to their original birth certificates.

Governor Quinn did this for a number of reasons. Representative Sara Feigenholtz, an eight term representative, had made it clear that this bill was the most important piece of legislation she would ever champion – and she needed him to sign it. Other key legislators played a role, most notably Senate President John Cullerton, and Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan. So politics may have played a role – but I’d like to think Governor Quinn signed the bill into law because he knew it was the right thing to do.

This past May, he celebrated the fourth anniversary of that signing in Springfield – and then in July, he signed yet another bill to help adult adoptees. He has championed adoptee rights more than most in his position across the country. I hope he can feel me standing up to salute his service today (as he has so often very quietly stood up to salute those who have served our country). Thank you Governor Pat Quinn. Adoptees, whether they are from Illinois or not, will remember the good work that you did. Thank you for your service and for your compassion as a human being. May others in power follow your example…


September 2014

Posted on September 3rd, 2014
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2014 is the year of fourteen. 14. That’s how many states to date provide access to original birth records for adopted citizens. It’s wonderful – yet also sobering. Its taken so much effort to get to this place – and there’s still so far to go. I stand in awe of those who have navigated the sluggish and tricky waters of reform.

Sad to think that states sealed adoptees’ birth certificates with such ease, often with little or no record of who was involved or why. Bills passed in silence. No one fought on behalf of the children being adopted, there was no impassioned testimony about what this might do to them, just a quiet closing of doors, a creation of vaults, and generations of stone-faced clerks taught to say ‘you have no right to this information’, a monotone inhumane response stretching out forever.

What past legislatures did in an instant has taken decades to undo. New Jersey sealed records in 1940. When those children of the sealed era grew up and asked for the piece of paper that the state held on the first chapter of their lives, it took 34 years to finally reverse. Young people who began the effort are now white-haired. And even with victory, there was a need to compromise. What made the ink on the New Jersey bill palatable was the knowledge that going there would be no more sealed records going forward.

Not every state has been as complicated a battleground as New Jersey – but all of them have required tenacity, courage, and enormous amounts of personal time. On the surface, it sounds so easy. If a law is unjust, change it. If it were just that simple.

2014 has felt like a tipping point. Washington, Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey – all enacted or passed laws this year. Connecticut has inertia. Illinois passed an additional statute. And Pennsylvania has looked hopeful all year long. But like so many other battleground states, as votes draw close, old and antiquated fears and foes appear. This may not be Pennsylvania’s year – but one day it will be.

For if the history of the adoption reform movement suggests anything, its that perseverance works. The stamina required is daunting. The cost, in terms of human time, personal expense, coping with attacks from within and without, the discouragement – its impossible to quantify. Applaud the people in the trenches doing the work. Their efforts are for more than a simple piece of paper. They dignify us all.

2014. It could be a tipping point. It’s definitely a year to celebrate!

APRIL 2014

Posted on May 23rd, 2014
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Last June, as I was filming testimony of NJ-CARE members during an Assembly hearing, my primary camera failed. I was filming Susan Perry at the time, and I remember thinking – well, New Jersey isn’t going to pass access legislation while Governor Christie is in office, and Susan Perry is one of the most important voices out there so there will be lots more opportunities.

Susan taught us many things. One of them is, we can never foresee the future.

Shortly after her testimony, she was diagnosed with fourth stage melanoma. She passed away less than a month ago. If she had access to her own birth information, it’s quite possible she would still be alive.

And somehow, Governor Christie is finding his way to ‘yes.’ So in May of 2014, New Jersey will see the light at the end of its very long tunnel of adoption reform. Secrecy in adoption will end – and Susan Perry will have played a significant role in that. While I don’t think she’d be happy that adult adopted citizens will have to wait until 2017 to access their birth certificates, or that redactions were a necessary compromise for the passage, I have to believe she would be thrilled about eliminating the secrecy for future generations. Her advocacy alongside the NJ-CARE team will save lives and provide both equality and dignity for adopted citizens going forward.

Susan and I both had cancer scares mid summer 2013. Mine ended up just being a lot of tests and good news. Susan’s experience was far different. I just reread the last emails between us. As she cheered the good news I’d received, I kept prodding her to consider doing a film. She would have been a natural filmmaker with her storytelling gifts, with her laugh, and with her wisdom. But Susan was very clear about what she intended to do with her time: spend it with her husband, her daughters, her grandchildren – and her two newly found sisters, who arrived bearing love and kindness last fall.

Mid winter, I sent Susan and Ty the very first copy of my new film, A Simple Piece of Paper, about adoptee access in Illinois. I don’t know if Susan felt well enough to even watch a few frames – but it made me feel good to know she was its first audience, in spirit.

The film now goes out into the ‘ether’, as it premieres in twenty states on PBS this week, and will hopefully air in every state in the Union through the summer and fall (see for the schedule). I wish she were here so we could talk a bit more about about writing with pictures, and the impact films can have. She had the most important gift of any storyteller: an intense passion coupled with a compassionate mind. I am imaging the films she would have made, stamped with her own special wisdom and wit. I will always regret that I didn’t capture her testimony last June. Her words were so powerful. They will always be powerful…

2013 December

Posted on December 7th, 2013
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When I was younger, I felt somewhat cynical. I didn’t believe people could change. But then bit by bit, things began to shift here in America. Drunks who got behind the wheel of a car were no longer funny (watch any movie from the 50’s and 60’s when drunk driving was a comedy staple). Public smoking was no longer tolerated. Homosexuals came out of the closet, and began to be treated like human beings (at least in some places). An African American was elected president. These shifts all represent the capacity not only for individuals but for our large and often unwieldy culture to change, to evolve. But if you had told me a quarter century ago that apartheid would end, I would never have believed it. Ever. And yet it did – and one man was largely responsible.

Nelson Mandela stands to me as a symbol of hope, of change. Mandela was filled with hatred for the first eleven years of his imprisonment. And then, he somehow found the capacity inside himself to let go of his hatred, and to try to love all people, to not let anger dominate him. His smile won people. Smile at your enemies. It will disarm them.

You know – he was a boxer. He looked like Muhammad Ali. When he was younger, he was heavier. He did some things that really were… violent. He was not like MLK or Ghandi. But he was magnifying, articulate, charismatic – and hopeful.

When Jon and I were in South Africa three years ago, we went to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years. I stood in his cell, and tried to imagine the transformation he allowed to happen inside of him. He might have been in a cell, outwardly under the control of others, but he was free in his mind and heart.

It meant a great deal to me to see this place, to stand for a few moments alone in that small room. I had seen it once before, and vowed if I ever got a chance to go there, I would.

When the Millenium celebration was happening in 2000, I had the flu. I lay on the couch and watched as the clock hit midnight in Fiji (the first country to enter the 21st century), and every hour, television crews showed the celebration in each country. There were huge, spectacular demonstrations, full of magnificent displays of fireworks, millions of people partying, everywhere. Except one country: South Africa.

There, on Robben Island, a camera crew followed twenty-seven barefoot men, drummers, as they walked in a line into the prison hallway where Nelson Mandela had been kept. And they began to drum on the floor. Then they pressed their feet against the sides of the walls, inching their way up, above the ground, all the while drumming the sides of the hallway as they climbed, until they were drumming on the ceiling, their legs forming an archway below them. And underneath that human arch walked Nelson Mandela, holding the hand of a small boy. They walked into the cell where he’d been imprisoned, and together lit a single candle.

I wept. I still do, thinking of it. It was the most hopeful thing I have ever witnessed. Every other country had celebrated with a party. South Africa reminded us of how far we can come, and how far we have to go. They chose to embrace hope.

I would encourage all adoption reformers. Light a candle. Let the anger go. Smile at everyone. Forgive them for their ignorance. Never lose your hope and resolve – people can change…

August 2013

Posted on August 23rd, 2013
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My oldest son was married last Saturday. To an amazing young woman. It was an magic day – full of remember-forever moments for our whole family. It was a day of joy for Tiff. A day of strength and brotherhood for Jonathon. A day of passage for Jon and I. A day to join with a new family, and to welcome a daughter-in-law to hold hands with us. It couldn’t have been more extraordinary.

Perhaps for those of us who are adopted, or who spend far too much time thinking about the issues adopted adults can deal with, there is something about it all, the growing up of one’s kids, the expanding of a family, the wonderfulness of the joining, that fulfills certain longings, fulfills a sense of belonging. I have heard others speak of the sense of loss when their children wed. I felt only gain – and an odd and wonderful sense that I don’t have to worry so much, something that I’ve spent far too many hours doing.

Anyway. It was cool! I will post pictures somewhere for friends who’ve known Tiff for forever, and share with them the video of the wedding, and the video of Jonathon’s amazing toast as well, if he’ll let me. Wedding days are certainly lifetime moments for the bride and groom – but they can evoke lifetime moments for others as well.

This one did for me.

For all the ‘scares’ that July had wrought, August erased them a thousand fold, and gave us all a day in the sun. Literally.

Okay. For all who are waiting, I am back to cutting the film. And feeling very very happy!