Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Book of Life Adoption Movie Review

A busload of children assigned to detention arrives at a history museum. They’re unexcited, and expect to be left unimpressed. They are greeted by a confident woman who presents herself as a tour guide. The children prepare to follow her through the front door of the museum, but she leads them down a hidden path, explaining, “You’re not like the other kids.” The children follow the guide past an elderly employee, and eventually they find themselves in a room filled with treasure and skulls. The guide intones, “Behold the glorious beauty of Mexico.” She leads the children to The Book of Life, from which she reads them a legend about how the ways of the world came to be. It is a story of a bet between two gods (La Muerte, who rules the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, who rules the Land of the Forgotten.) It’s also the story of two boys, Joaquin and Manolo, who love the same girl, Mariam the coming of age of all three of them, and the fate of a town threatened by villains. It’s a lot of stories, but as the film rightly says, “All the world is made of stories.”

The Adoption Connection

The theme of remembering, and desiring, those we’ve lost is relevant to folks who’ve been adopted or who are in foster care.

Strong Points

The boys both want Maria’s hand, but Maria asserts, “I belong to no one.”

Although they are rivals, and at times are close to becoming enemies, the friendship of Joaquin and Manolo perseveres; each risks his life to save the other.

The Day of the Dead is a significant part of the story; it underscores the importance of remembering those we have lost.

The film encourages kids to “write your own life.”


Some scenes take place in the underworld. Children might be frightened to see dead characters return, transformed.

One father puts considerable pressure on his son to follow in his footsteps, and expresses great disappointment when the son follows his own heart.

A character comments that he can feel the presence of his lost mother one day a year. It is a good thought, and I think it is a valuable idea to have rituals to help us remember those we have lost – whether through death or through other means; at the same time, it’d be good to make sure kids know that they’re not limited to annual remembrances of those they have lost.

One character tries to comfort a young boy by telling him that, so long as he remembers his dead mother, she is still here – but that if he forgets her, she will be truly gone. I wonder if kids who have lost relationships with their parents through adoption or through foster care might come away from that scene with an unhelpful sense of guilt.  

One beloved character dies unexpectedly, and this could be very difficult for young viewers. Earlier, the character is told by a close friend, basically, that he deserves to be dead. (For what it’s worth, the narration of the Day of the Dead is interrupted here and the film cuts back to the detention kids. One of them asks, “What kind of a story is this? We’re just kids!” – it’s welcome comic relief.) ***SPOILER – he is later brought back to life. ***

One character asks, “What is it with Mexicans and death?” It’s meant (and probably will be taken) as a joke, but some audiences might be taken aback at any ethnically-based jokes.

Weak Points

Because he refuses to compromise his sense of right and wrong, one young man is disowned by his father.

A villain attempts to destroy the whole town by blowing himself up.


This is a fun movie with excellent use of music. It shows beautiful friendships that survive difficult times, and family relationships that are restored, even after being severed by death or by arguments. It also emphasizes that value of remembering those with whom we have lost contact (in the film, it’s because of death, but I think adoptees and foster children could also see a connection to the losses they’ve experienced). At the same time, some concerns – and the death-centric aspect of the story, might make it too scary for young viewers. Other kids might be fascinated when a character, upon dying, is reunited with generations of his ancestors. I could see this being hard for adoptees who are reminded of the biologically-related relations they’ve lost, or empowering as they consider their place in the histories of multiple families. It could be a good film to watch and then immediately process with kids between the ages of 9-12; there are good conversations to be had.  

Questions for Discussion

Who do you miss? How do you remember them? What could we do to help celebrate our memories of them?

If you could be reunited with people from your past – some that you’ve met, some that you’ve only heard about – who would they be?

What do you think happens after we die?

What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you think your parents support you? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Talking About ReMoved Part 2 - an Interview with Christina Matanick

I recently had a chance to connect with Christina Matanick, who with her husband Nathanael has created the phenomenally well-received foster care film, ReMoved. They're working on creating the sequel, ReMoved Part 2, and for the next 20 hours, you can help fund it on Kickstarter by clicking here. 

Addison: what's your own connection to foster care and adoption? 

Christina: My husband and I have always considered adoption, and when we started exploring the possibilities, someone told us about adoption from foster care. We signed up to learn more at foster parent trainings and began to understand that the need goes beyond just adoption and into journeying with kids in foster care regardless of their court process being an adoptive or reunification situation. It broke our hearts to imagine our own children being moved from home to home, separated from each other, and feeling so unloved and unwanted. 

At the time of these initial trainings, our social worker (an amazing woman named Chris Poynter) was trying to help our class understand foster care from the child's point of view. It's so easy to look at life from our own perspective--the challenges and sacrifices we would make in order to open our home to someone else's child--and so difficult to move from our own perspective into seeing something through another person's experience. Chris showed us a slideshow of quotes a kid in foster care might say, if they were able to articulate their emotions. It was heartbreakingly sad. 

After that little slideshow, Nathanael and I looked at each other and said, "We should make this into a film." At the time, we had already signed up for a short film speedmaking competition, so we decided to make the topic of foster care our subject matter. From there, I did a lot more research on understanding the foster care experience through a child's perspective, Nathanael assembled an amazing team of people to come on board with the project, and then we wrote, shot, and edited the actual film within the film competition's parameters. 

Addison: What has been your most cherished feedback from the film?

Christina: All the feedback from foster alum. Also from foster parents (and people who are NOW foster parents because of ReMoved). That's been extraordinary. But definitely the most cherished feedback is all the foster alum (and current youth too) who have written us saying "Thank you," that ReMoved tells their story and articulates their emotion in a way that nothing else ever has. That is simply mind-blowing and overwhelming in such an amazing way. We are so blessed to be a part of that. 

Addison: What are your hopes for Part 2, and, a year from now, what do you hope it will have accomplished?

Christina: We hope it's an extraordinary piece of art. Better than the first one. And that it reaches and touches more people than part one. We hope that it will play even a small role in breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect that continues to perpetuate itself in our nation and our world. We hope less kids will have to experience this story, that more people will get involved, and that it will inspire and challenge people to love one another better. 

Addison: How can people support the film now?

Christina: There's still time to be part of the team that is making ReMoved Part Two happen! You can visit our kickstarter campaign at www.removedfilm.com but time is running out to get your name in the credits or pick out some awesome reward.

Addison: How can people support the film once it's released? 

Christina: Share it! Send it to your friends, do something about this issue--don't just watch it and remain unmoved. This really is an organic movement because of ordinary people. 

Thanks to Christina for her time, and to everyone involved with ReMoved for making such a powerful, valuable picture of life in foster care. For the next twenty hours, you can become part of the project by clicking here

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ReMoved - Foster Care Movie Review - and How You Can Be a Part of Making the Sequel!

ReMoved follows the emotional journey of a nine-year-old girl --Zoe-- who is removed from her abusive birth home and placed in the tumultuous foster care system. This poignant short film provides insight on the experiences of many children coming from homes of abuse and neglect, and explores the emotion of it all through the child's point of view.

According to the film’s writer, Christina Matanick, “ReMoved Part Two will look at a more holistic view of the situation in foster care today, exploring how to prevent the cycle of abuse and neglect from perpetuating itself in the first place.”  She says , “This continuation of Zoe's story will examine how different players in a child's life affect the prospects of his or her future.”

How's this relevant to foster care and adoption?
In only 13 minutes, ReMoved powerfully captures the emotional experience of a child in foster care. The filmmakers report that many people within the foster care and adoptive worlds, including social workers, CASAs, foster alum, foster parents, counselors, and adoptive parents have heralded ReMoved as one of the best pieces of literature depicting the experience of a child in foster care.
The film is captivating and powerful. In a few short months, it has become a widely-used video in trainings for foster and adoptive families. The agency I work for uses it in trainings, as well, and my experience is that foster parents – and social workers – are often moved to tears as they are confronted with the pain and insecurity that a child experiences while in care.

This is an excellent, emotional film that can help prospective foster and adoptive parents understand, at a raw, emotional level, the perspective of a child in foster care.

Scenes of abuse, and sad scenes about foster care, could be difficult to see for children who are actively living it out. Conversely, though, some therapists have found the film a helpful tool for current foster youth. 

ReMoved comes highly recommended by agencies and foster care alum. It gets my high recommendation for foster families, friends of foster families, and people considering foster care. It will also be valuable to some youth in foster care; parents may want to screen the film first.

Where to See It
ReMoved, part 1, is available to see for free online. Here’s the full film.

How To Get Involved
ReMoved Part 2 is currently being funded on Kickstarter. For the next 36 hours (until 10 AM pacific time on Thursday), you can get involved and be a part of this. Check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/heschle/removed-part-two

Questions for Discussion (by Christina Matanick, writer of ReMoved)
How is Zoe's story similar or different from your own?

Did you expect the ending? How did it make you feel?

What emotions did she have to process, and what finally helped her experience begin to change toward being hopeful?

More Coming Soon!

Please come back Wednesday at 2 PM Pacific / 5 PM Eastern when I'll post an interview with Christina Matanick, the writer of ReMoved!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day review

Eleven-year-old Alexander Cooper has had a horrible day.  His friend has texted embarrassing, doctored photographs of him to the whole school. His birthday party falls on the same day as the party of a more popular student, and it sounds like his will go unattended. When Alexander tries to share about his day with his family, they do not listen; they are distracted by their own lives. His older brother, Anthony, is getting ready for tomorrow’s prom. His sister, Emily, is preparing for tomorrow’s school play. His overly-optimistic but out-of-work father is enthralled by the day he has had with his infant son Trevor, and is also focusing on tomorrow’s job interview, and publishing executive mom Kelly is preparing for a very important book release. Frustrated and alone, Alexander wishes that his family will understand what it’s like to be him – that they will know what it means to have a completely horrible day. And, since this is a Disney movie, wishes do come true.

How’s This Relevant to Foster Care and Adoption?
Kids in foster care may struggle with magical thinking that makes them feel responsible for their removal from their parents. Alexander feels responsible for the bad days his family members are having. This film doesn’t really have adoption or foster care themes, but it does have a strong “family” theme – and all foster families and adoptive families are, after all, families.
I generally like Ben’s optimism, but the film shows how even optimism isn’t always the right response. The film suggests “some days are just bad,” that you have to accept that, and move on. I think there’s value in allowing kids (and grown-ups) to acknowledge pain and sadness without feeling the need to put on a happy face. Sometimes we have really bad days, and acknowledging that is an important part of processing it. The film also shows that hard times can bring families together.  

When Alexander blames himself for the family’s string of bad luck, the family quickly realizes how bad he’s feeling, and universally surrounds him with love and assurance that they will stick together. Alexander’s magical thinking makes him think that everyone else’s bad days are his own fault; his family firmly and universally denies this. It’s good. Kids often blame themselves when they don’t understand why hard things have happened – that’s probably especially true of kids who’ve been taken into foster care. This film extends warm assurance – “it’s not your fault.”  

Kelly notes that Alexander has been moody since the arrival of Trevor. In fact, it seems like Alexander has been a bit ignored. He’s also been the baby of the family for ten years, so it would make sense that he’s having a bit of trouble adjusting to his new role.

There’s a rather frightening car accident.

Alexander’s birthday party is Australian-themed. His parents book a group of Australian cowboys as entertainers without realizing that they are strippers. Thankfully, they realize it in time and successfully request a “PG” show. Clothes stay on. This joke will probably go over most young kids’ heads.

Kelly accidentally walks in on Anthony while he is undressed in the bathroom.

Weak Point
Anthony's girlfriend attempts to comment humorously on the awkwardness of his family; she asks,"Are you sure you're not adopted?" This could be an unexpectedly uncomfortable moment for some viewers.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a funny movie. The kids I attended with enjoyed it. Aside from a rather frightening car crash, there’s not much to worry about, and there are two therapeutically valid and helpful messages to reinforce: It’s OK to call a bad day a bad day, and families can stick together even in the midst of bad days.

Questions for Discussion
What hard times has your family survived?
Have you ever felt, like Alexander, responsible for something that really probably wasn’t your fault?
Have you ever felt, like Alexander, like no one cared enough to listen to you?

Is it OK to feel sad?
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