ADOPTEE OBC: a simple piece of paper, had a rough cut premiere in the same fantastic venue in Cleveland, with much of the same audience, that For the Life of Me enjoyed four years ago. The American Adoption Congress returned to Ohio for its annual conference, with an incredibly exciting backdrop: a clean bill passed the Ohio Assembly while the conference was in session. It was an awesome moment. One of my favorite memories of the entire week was watching Betsie Norris’s face as she was given a long sustained standing ovation the morning after this historic passage. Betsie was visibly moved as she was acknowledged by her peers for the 24 year effort she has made to help Ohio get it right. There is still more work to be done – a Senate vote, a governor’s signature, and none of it taken for granted. But it was sweet to watch – for everyone in attendance. Rock on Betsie!
The premiere of the film was equally thrilling. It’s the longest film I’ve ever made, topping the scales at almost two hours. It will need to be shorter in its final cut, but for this audience, it was appreciated (that three minute standing ovation is something I’ll never forget). With many people in attendance who are key in the film taking the stage (State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, her chief-of-staff Stephen Landfear, and the stars of the film, Jennifer Dyan Ghoston, Bill Buchholtz, Gay Ellen Brown, Maura Duffy, and Krista McCoy) as well as many others who helped make this film what it is, it was a spectacular night. Many thanks to the AAC hospitality suite – we partied long into the night! Illinois may have passed a bill that many felt was controversial, but it has gotten the job done in many ways. It has been an honor to be in the state the past year, and to witness the results of a fierce battle. That Feigenholtz and others were able to reverse a bill that sealed all records retroactively in 1989 – well, its just remarkable. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a decade and a half. Move to California Sara. Figure out the mousetrap there. The big states present hard challenges, not only in geography but in sheer numbers (its easier to rally adoptees in states with populations in the thousands, than in states that have tens of millions, not mention thousands of miles between borders.) Suffice it to say, I have learned that education works both ways – working a bill through the legislative maze in any state is an art form which demands patience, hard work, and street smarts born of years in the field.
The AAC continues to evolve in its membership, and in the content of its presenters. The organization has always provided a forum for new voices (I adore so many of the new faces these last few years – all with fresh perspectives and important voices to add to the dialogue!), and for the academy of pioneers who continue to find their way to the conference each year. We missed Sharon Roszia – whose name on the brochure got me to come on Wednesday for the first time. Be well, old friend, and here’s hoping you come next year, when the conference is in San Francisco. Oh my gosh – wish I had a film to take there! But these things take years to hatch (as evidenced by this one), with each story deserving the time and care to ‘get it right’.
I told many at the conference that this is most likely my last feature film on adoption (though I said that about the last one too, come to think of it). When people ask if I’m going to do a shorter version or another film about a different aspect of this, it often feels like when each of my kids was born and people asked if I was going to have another baby. A film, like a book, or like any piece of art, be it a painting or a sculpture or a play, is a birth. Truth be told, I’m exhausted. This film, following the journeys of so many people, has worn me out. I feel both hopeful and sad. Each story leads down a path – each story has a resolution of some kind. But so many people are in the wings. So many states remain closed. And there are those handful of people who cope with redaction or disclosure – equally deserving of being given a piece of paper with the facts of their arrival on it. Why is it taking so long for our culture and citizenry to understand the need for access for all. Why?
To all those who are fighting the good fight, stay at it. Ohio – may 2013 be your year – and may you inspire yet more legislators and citizens to push this ball down the field. It’s time America. It’s time for all fifty states to provide all adoptees with the beginning of their story. It’s the record of their own birth dammit. Filming in Illinois rocked me to my core, made me adamant. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. It’s almost 2017. Minnesota became the first state in the union to seal records in 1917. Almost a century has passed since that misguided act. Let us use Minnesota’s centennial as a benchmark going forward – a hundred years of secrecy is enough. Eliminate the shame and the darkness. Every story in A Simple Piece of Paper drives it home: treat adopted citizens equally – let them have their truth. It is so empowering, so healing. Just let it be.