03 Oct Q&A WITH TAMMY CHU, DIRECTOR OF RESILIENCE
Interview with Tammy Chu, director of the RESILIENCE, part of this year’s spotlight on adoption
Q&A by Lee Ann Kim
LEE ANN KIM: HOW DID YOU GET CONNECTED WITH BRENT BEESLEY AND HIS BIRTH MOTHER?
TAMMY CHU: I met Brent’s birth mother, Myung-ja Noh, through G.O.A.’L (Global Overseas Adoptee Link, www.goal.or.kr). G.O.A.’L is an adoptee-run, support organization for returning adoptees in Korea and they had helped Brent reunite with his birth mother. With one of G.O.A.’L’s staff who helped interpret, I went to meet Myung-ja for the first time to do a preliminary interview. A few days after that, I received an email from Brent after he saw our posting online about the making of Resilience. He wrote that he really supported the film and wanted to help somehow. He also told me about reuniting with his birth mother and how it had affected him. I wrote him back and told him that I had just met his birth mother a few days earlier! It was such an amazing coincidence.
KIM: YOU SPENT FOUR YEARS FOLLOWING BRENT AND HIS MOTHER. YOU MUST HAVE SHOT AN AMAZING AMOUNT OF FOOTAGE. ANY SCENES THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT?
CHU: Originally, the film was going to focus on the experience of birth mothers and include a historical, social and political perspective of Korean overseas adoption. We filmed several birth mothers and also interviewed adoptees, activists, government officials, and adoption agency workers. We shot a huge amount of footage- almost 200 hours. From the very beginning, I knew that Myung-ja and Brent would be main characters in the film. But as we were editing the film, we decided to focus the film on just their story because it was so moving and compelling. We hoped that their story would help represent the experiences of many other birth mothers and adoptees.
We plan to make an educational supplemental video to Resilience and include some of the other interviews and footage. We are continuing with the project and are raising funds for it currently. For anyone who would like to support the film, they can visit our website (www.resiliencefilm.com) for more info or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
KIM: I NOTICED THAT IN SOME SCENES EITHER YOU OR SOMEONE BEHIND THE CAMERA WOULD AT TIMES INTERPRET FOR BRENT AND HIS MOTHER. DID YOU INTEND TO DO THIS? PLEASE TALK ABOUT THE PROCESS AND FRUSTRATION OF THEIR COMMUNICATION GAP.
CHU: We wanted to have an interpreter on set for Brent and his mother in order to show the language barrier, and the difficulties of communicating even simple things to each another. There were also moments we filmed them without an interpreter to show their interaction with each other. This is something many other adoptees and I have experienced when we reunite with our birth families and I wanted to show the realities of what separation and reunion is like.
KIM: I THOUGHT THE FIRST DINNER SCENE WAS PRECIOUS, ESPECIALLY WHEN HIS MOTHER TRIED TO SHOVE CHAP CHAE INTO HIS MOUTH. FOR A KID FROM SOUTH DAKOTA, THAT MUST HAVE BEEN SHOCKING?
CHU: I think in some ways for Brent these moments were very new and awkward but also at the same time meaningful to receive so much attention and affection from his birth mother. Some of the food Brent didn’t like, but he said some of it he really enjoyed. I think it really meant a lot to him to have his mother cook and try to feed for him so much because he wasn’t used to that and didn’t grow up with that. But at the same time it was a bit overwhelming and uncomfortable- having so much attention all at once.
KIM: I NOTICED YOU DIDN’T INTERVIEW BRENT’S PARENTS. AND SOMETHING ELSE NOTICEABLY MISSING WAS BRENT’S WIFE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT CHOICE?
CHU: We actually filmed a few interviews with Brent’s parents. I initially planned on including more of Brent’s parents in the film, but as we were editing the film, we decided to focus the story on Brent and his birth mother. We decided not to include Crystal, Brent’s partner (they were high school sweethearts but were not married) because after Brent’s second trip to Korea, they separated and wanted to limit how much she was in the film.
KIM: THE FILM TOOK A POLITICAL TURN AS MYUNGJA BECAME AN ADVOCATE AGAINST INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT ISSUE?
CHU: There have been approximately 200,000 children sent overseas for adoption from South Korea, the largest amount of any sending country, including China and Russia. Instead of developing an adequate social welfare system, Korea has used inter-country adoption in place of social welfare from the 1950s until the 1990s and early 2000s. Rather than providing social welfare support for poor, needy families and single mothers, the adoption system in Korea has encouraged families to relinquish their children for adoption. I advocate for family preservation and increased social welfare support to needy families and single mothers so that they have the choice to keep their children rather than being forced to give them up. As the 13th largest economy in the world, Korea has the means to support all of its citizens. If family preservation is not possible, then I think adoption can be an alternative option.
KIM: SO EXCITED THIS IS A U.S. PREMIERE! HOW WAS THE FILM RECEIVED IN KOREA?
CHU: Resilience has been received very well in Korea. At the world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea, both of the film’s screenings were sold out. The film will be released in Korean theaters on September 16th.
KIM: HOW IMPORTANT IS SHARING THIS STORY WITH OUR SAN DIEGO AUDIENCE?
CHU: We are very excited to premiere the film in San Diego. Resilience is a story related to adoption, but it also relates to Asian Americans and women in general. And the core of the story is something many of us can relate to- that of family and relationships. So I hope that many audiences in San Diego can take away something from the film.
KIM: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
CHU: We are in the plans for creating supplemental videos, which will be available on DVD with Resilience. I am also currently co-producing two other documentaries: Life as Dad (www.lifeasdadfilm.com) and Play Money (www.playmoneyfilm.com) through our production company, Nameless Films (www.namelessfilms.com).
KIM: FINALLY, DO YOU KEEP IN TOUCH WITH BRENT AND HIS MOTHER?
CHU: Yes, I do keep in touch with Brent and his mother. I also help communicate/interpret between them via Skype sometimes.
Lee Ann is the founder and former Executive Director of Pacific Arts Movement and the San Diego Asian Film Festival.