My Journey from the Crazy world of Hollywood to the Crazy
World of Documentaries
(This show originally aired June, 2011) Filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton is in the Film Courage studio how she got into producing (Whale Rider, Shipping News), why she decided to roll cameras on her latest documentary Somewhere Between, the issue of young girls being abandoned and left for adoption in China, and what she would have done had the film not gotten into HotDocs and the Los Angeles Film Festival.
(This article first ran in March 2012)
I’ve been a producer of scripted features for many years. I traveled to
Newfoundland for the filming of THE SHIPPING NEWS. I walked the red carpet with Keisha Castle Hughes, when she was Oscar-nominated for another film I produced, WHALE RIDER. I’ve schmoozed at studios, gala banquets, fancy award ceremonies and backlots.
I’ve also slept in a spooky basement in Amsterdam, with spiders dangling
above my head. I drank rotten tamarind juice in Bangladesh and lay on a bathroom floor for days, wishing I were dead. I’ve carried so much camera equipment on my back, that, in photos, I’m barely visible underneath the pile of sticks and bags.
I’m a filmmaker. And recently, my focus has shifted from the fiction world,
where I was telling stories generated by others, to that of non-fiction, where my goal is to illuminate something that’s happening in the world right now. Even more surprising to me, my latest documentary project grew out of personal experience.
I am a filmmaker, so knew I had to make a movie to answers these questions. And my feature documentary, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN, was born.
There are over 80,000 children adopted from China now growing up in
the U.S. – over 90% of them are girls. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN tells the intimate stories of four of these teenaged girls. They have different kinds of families but are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China, because they had birth parents who could not keep them, due to personal circumstances colliding with China’s ‘One Child Policy’. These wonderful young women allow us to grasp what it is like to come-of-age in today’s America as trans-racial adoptees. At the same time, we see them as typical American teenagers doing what teenagers everywhere do…struggling to answer the question, ‘Who Am I?’
During my three years of shooting in the U.S., Europe and China, these are the things I learned:
1) You can never have too much Advil, Sudafed, or Ambien in your bag.
2) People you meet while shooting will open up their hearts and tell you their stories. Don’t be afraid to connect, to ask them questions.
3) You may think you know what your documentary is about. Let it evolve. It’ll be about much more than you ever imagined.
4) Distribution is a whole new frontier. The old days, where the filmmaker
signs over all power and most of the money to a distribution company,
are over. The new frontier is Do-It-Yourself. It’s a lot more work, but you
control more of the outcome. As part of that model, we currently launched
a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary P&A funds to get the film into
theaters this summer and on DVD in the fall. Please check out our site…
5) Don’t forget your passport. Yes, Canada is a different country. That story is too long for this article.
6) Telling stories that are personal lead to stories that are universal. In
a previous documentary I co-directed and co-produced, THE WORLD
ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET, the issues were fascinating and important, but didn’t apply to me directly. In this film, which came from an emotional need to explore the possible experiences of my daughter, I felt deeply connected not just to the girls, but to the story. And even more surprising, what started out as a movie about four girls, has translated into a story about everyone. Everyone goes through developing their identities – and that’s what this film is about. Recently, I traveled to India with the film as part of Sundance’s Film Forward Program.
After a long time having watched the film, which is still going on in my mind, the credit goes to you and your team who were able to create a sensitive, captivating and engaging documentary. I believe a lot must have been said, talked and discussed about the central theme of the film i.e. adoption, but apart from that there are few other thoughts and emotions on which this documentary was able to connect with me.
IDENTITY — you will be surprised to know that India is a land of diversity and we differ a lot not only in languages, cultures, foods, and traditions — but even how we look in our physical appearance. So identity is a big thing for us and one can find many social and political challenges arising out of that in our nation.
ROOTS — it was pleasant to see in the film that a human being doesn’t forget their roots and is always in a quest to connect with their motherland and their people. In our nation where every youth has a great American Dream, it was a pleasant thing to reaffirm that prosperity is not the only thing in life, but love and identity is.
PARENTS — in today’s world where parents are being left to spend their elder days in old-age homes or to live lives of loneliness from their children, there are human souls who are restless to find and meet their parents who have given them birth. Even In Indian mythology the lord Krishna was brought up by another family – as during his birth he was separated from his mother Devaki due to unfavorable circumstance. But in religious texts and among people, he is still known and adulated as the son of Yashoda (the lady who brought him up).
I wish you all the best for Somewhere Between — and may you keep doing such work, which is universal and talks about our shared human emotions.
With Thanks and Regards — Amit Gupta (New Delhi, India)”
And finally, the last thing I learned while shooting this film…
7) Making – and releasing – a documentary film is a journey. Never give
up. Some parts of the road will be smooth, others littered with walls and
boulders. Keep picking your way around them. Keep moving forward
toward your goal.
If you’d like to help me round the last boulder in my journey, please check out our Kickstarter site and share it with your friends!
Linda Goldstein Knowlton
For more on Linda, please visit:
Before directing her current award-winning documentary Somewhere Between, Linda Goldstein Knowlton championed and produced the award-winning film Whale Rider, directed by Niki Caro, and produced the Lasse Hallstrom-directed The Shipping News, as well as films Mumford and Crazy in Alabama. She Co-Directed andCo-Produced her first documentary, The World According to Sesame Street, which aired on PBS.