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Published Friday October 2nd, 2009 at 6:44pm

Original Article by Matthew Lamers and Shannon Heit

Behind the glamour of adoption, new beginnings and happy reunions,there is another, darker side of loss and separation for birth mothers,birth families, and adoptees that is often left out of the discussion.Popular culture mostly fails to take up the issue from the perspectiveof the birth mother. What factors forced the decision to give up herchild? Were there other options? How has she coped since?

Filmmaker Tammy Chu asks those questions, but also considersthe feeling of separation from the side of the adoptee and thesometimes life-long journey to find identity and belonging.

Chu, an adoptee herself, says these children are an undocumented andinvisible diaspora that don't fall into the usual category ofimmigrants or migrants.

According to the Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, an adoptee-founded andrun NGO, upwards of 200,000 children have been adopted internationallyfrom Korea since the 1950s. But a more conservative estimate from theKorean Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family in 2002 put the number at148,394. The ministry said that between 1995 and 2005, 78,000 came backto Korea to search for their families, accounting for 63 percent of thechildren who have been adopted abroad. Yet of those who have attemptedto find their birth families, only 2.7 percent have been successful.

Korea's international adoption program continues, and according togovernment figures, 1,264 children were adopted from Korea in 2008.

"But it hasn't been talked about because I think that adoptees havejust begun to speak out in the last few years about their experiences,"she said. The media tend to leave out the fact that many adoptees arenot actually orphans when they are adopted, and that they do have birthfamilies somewhere. Chu believes that the Korean society as a whole hasa collective sense of guilt for having sent so many children abroad.

"And I think that there hasn't been enough done to tell these stories.Generally a lot of TV shows are about reunions - they don't talk enoughabout the underlying causes and problems that force so many women togive up their children - like the lack of social welfare, and women'srights that forces unwed mothers to give up their children," said Chu.

The filmmaker's second documentary, "Resilience," is an attempt to fillthis void. The documentary will premiere at the Pusan InternationalFilm Festival next week.

In the interviews she conducted for the movie, Chu said thatmothers "had an immense sense of loss and regret and spoke non-stopabout their children (that had been adopted abroad)."

The film has been a long time coming.

Rev. Kim Do-hyun, the director of KoRoot, an organization that helpssupport adoptees returning to Korea, first approached Chu to make thefilm in 2005 because he wanted to "make a short film about Korean birthmothers and the patriarchy that affected their lives and eventuallyforced them to give up their children." Chu said she felt compelled byKim's proposal because she thought the story of birth mothers' had notyet been told.

Chu began doing research for the project in 2005 by interviewing socialworkers, adoption agencies, single mothers' organizations, governmentofficials, including two former ministers of Health and Welfare, andbirth mothers. She initially made contact with over 30 different birthmothers, interviewed six and planned to include three in herdocumentary. She said that the unifying thread between all the mothersis the devastating impact it has had on their lives.

It was during these interviews that she realized that the project hadtransformed into a feature length film, rather than the shortdocumentary that Kim and Chu had originally envisioned. As filmingcontinued, the movie also evolved from three stories into one. Inparticular, the film focuses on one birth mother, Noh Myunga, and herson, Brent Beesley.

In the winter of 1977 Noh had left her son with relatives whileshe left to find work. But when she returned, she found that her familyhad given him up for adoption. Several family members made the decisionfor her, she said, not thinking about the long-term consequences ofwhat it's like for a woman to lose her child.

Chu felt their story would be particularly compelling for viewers andthat the film would best be served by focusing on one story in moreintimate detail.

Beesley, now 32, said his participation in the film allowed him to recover the long-lost bond with his birth mother.

"I am so thankful I got to be part of the movie ... it give me a chanceto know a little bit more about my mom," said Beesley. "I hope thismovie will bring some more attention to international adoption. Thereare so many things that can improve the whole process, and maybe thiscan be that little push to send things in the right direction."

Chu said she intends to include the other two stories in an educationalsupplement to the documentary that she is currently making.

Chu also hopes to eventually release "Resilience" internationally, but"felt like Busan was very fitting for the premiere, (since) it'spremiering not only in front of a Korean audience, but also a lot ofthe adoptee community in Korea will be able to see it."

The 14th Annual Pusan International Film Festival will be held thisyear from Oct. 8-16. The festival was first held in 1996 and has sinceestablished itself as Asia's largest annual film industry event, oftenreferred to as "the Cannes of Asia" in foreign media. At the Sept. 8Seoul press conference, it was announced that this year's festivalwould screen 355 hand-selected films from 70 different countries, arecord for the festival. With 13,740 seats and 36 screens at sixtheaters, the audience is projected to surpass 10,000 viewers from 55countries. The festival will also be showing a record 144 world andinternational premieres.

"Resilience" was selected by PIFF to receive funding from the 2008Asian Cinema Fund, selected under its Asian Network Documentarycategory, a true testament to the film, considering the honor istypically only given to Korean or Asian filmmakers.

Chu, an American, considered it a victory that the selection committeedecided to recognize and award her as a Korean filmmaker. "As aKorean-American filmmaker, it's hard to get funding because theyusually only support films by Korean directors."

"There should be more support for films by (overseas Koreans) becausewe also have an important voice in the Korean identity and experience.The Korean identity has expanded so art and funding should reflect thatnew plurality," she added.

Chu, who has lived in Korea since 2001, studied cinema and photographyat Ithaca College. She made her first documentary in 1998, "Searchingfor Go-Hyang," or "Searching for a homeland," a personal account offinding her birth family. It was screened at international filmfestivals and conferences, as well as broadcast on PBS in the UnitedStates and on Korean television sets via EBS.

For their part, Chu says the adoptee community has been particularlygenerous and supportive of the project. The film recently held anonline fundraising drive to help raise post-production costs andsurpassed their goal of $10,000. Chu said she was overwhelmed by theway people in the community reached into their own pockets to supportthe film. The response exceeded her expectations.

It has taken the support of many groups to see the fledgling project tofruition. The documentary is being produced by KoRoot, co-produced byNameless Films Collaborative, and supported by GOA'L, anadoptee-founded and run NGO in Seoul. The documentary's fiscal sponsoris Women Make Movies, the oldest and most established distributor offilms made by and about women.

"Resilience" has become a passion for Chu. She has been working on thefilm since 2005 and has often self-funded filming costs, all whileworking in Korea to allow her to make the movie. Other collaborators,like editor and co-producer Anthony Gilmore, have given their talentand time because of their belief in the film. Full-length documentariestypically cost over $100,000 to produce, but her crew has managed withnearly half that.

"It's been a pretty large struggle, but that's independent filmmaking.It's worth it when you can make a story that people will be impactedby."

Chu says that in the end, she wants viewers to think more criticallyabout international adoption, how it affects people, especially birthmothers and the 97.3 percent of adoptees that cannot track down theirbirth parents.

"Resilience" is currently still in post production and Chu's futureplans for the educational supplement DVD and international distributionwill require additional funding. If you'd like to donate to the film,or for more information, visit the official website