Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending the first annual Taiwanese American Film Festival at the Downtown Independent Theatre in LA. It was super fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the achievements of new and rising Taiwanese American and Taiwanese international cinema artists. It was established by the Taiwanese American Professionals of Los Angeles. The event showcased film screenings by filmmakers from all over the world. It gave me a sense of pride as I reflected upon my own ever growing exploration of what it means to be Taiwanese American. The festival offered morning, day, and sunset sessions with an industry panel and a night block featuring an awards ceremony and closing feature. There was a closing party afterwards (which I didn’t attend, but am sure was loads of fun).
My friend and I arrived just in time for the Opening Shorts Block. These films ranged from stories that focused on family, culture, and the past. As audience members, we had the opportunity to vote for our favorite film afterwards. I enjoyed all eight, but one in particular really resonated with me, “My Adoption.” The director, Chuang-Chieh Liao, discovered he was adopted in his adult years, and his film explores this newfound knowledge in a conversation with his adoptive mom. Interestingly, Chuang-Chieh was adopted by a Taiwanese family in Taiwan. He wrote the film as an international student during his first quarter at DePaul University in Chicago where he was pursuing a MFA. He stated about the film, “I just wanted to face the fear that was always in my mind. I had lost part of childhood memory. Three years ago, I found out that I was adopted. That’s when the memory came back to my brain. After I came to Chicago, I decided to call my mother and ask the details about my adoption for the first time.”
I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but the emotions behind the question that Chuang-Chieh asks his adoptive mother are quite tender, and we see how deeply he struggles to grasp at answers. Some members of his family were very conservative and opposed his adoption. As a result, he grew up without their love and support, and his adoptive parents were blamed for their inability to have a biological child. Especially poignant, we see childhood pictures of Chuang-Chieh with his adoptive parents in flashes as he converses with his mother over the phone. His parents loved him – it’s obvious, and we learn why they withheld sharing his adoption for so long. As I sat and watched this film, I was reminded that whether adoption occurs domestically in the US/abroad or through inter-country adoption, adoption is complex. But also, adoptive parents love their children. I’m not talking about abusive parents, neglectful parents, or parents who adopt for the wrong reasons. And this post doesn’t address the corruption that exists in adoption. Adoption is just complex on many different levels. It’s a tangled web of emotions and discovery across the lifespan that takes time to unravel, and it’s certainly a life-long journey for the adoptee, biological parents, and adoptive family. I”m sure that Chuang-Chieh continues to process the decision his adoptive parents made to adopt and love him despite such opposition from their own family in Taiwan. There is a social stigma that exists in Taiwan (and other Asian countries) towards adoption, especially if the child has a special need.
I wanted to know more after watching this brief, yet powerful film. It was one of the shorter films, approximately 4 minutes, and subtitled in English, as most of the films were. Unfortunately, Chuang-Chieh wasn’t present at the festival. I would have loved to talk to him about his experience and film. How cool it was to see a Taiwanese filmmaker explore his own personal experience of adoption.
My friend and I missed the Centerpiece Shorts Block, as we had lunch with some of her friends at a nearby restaurant, but some of the shorts are available to watch on Vimeo. Click here to see a listing of all the films and synopses. We did attend the Industry Panel featuring 5 actors/producers/writers: Lynn Chen (actress) of “Saving Face,” by Sony Pictures, Alan Pao (Producer) founder and CEO of Tunnel Post Production, Kai Wu (Writer), Charles Yu (Writer) and Kelvin Yu (Writer/Actor). Kai writes for the NBC TV series, “Hannibal” and CWs, “The Flash.” Charles writes for HBO’s “Westworld” and has authored multiple books. Kelvin currently writes for the Fox animated series, “Bob’s Burgers” and the Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” Very interesting and entertaining to learn how each of the panelists began their careers.
I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to watch, “My Adoption,” by Chuang-Chieh Liao. I’m linking his short here via Vimeo. Thank you, Chuang-Chieh, for making such a meaningful film that will surely resonate with other adoptees.