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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Movies & TV

"Stuck" follows four children as they try to make it through the adoption process to their families in America.

Adoption documentary "Stuck" finds temporary home in Milwaukee


Craig Juntunen and his wife Kathi have three children, all adopted from Haiti in 2006. Their 12-year-old son dreams of someday being a running back in the NFL. Their 11-year-old daughter wants to be a fashion designer. Their 7-year-old dreams of being an actor. Juntunen knows that their dreams and aspirations will change drastically in the years to come. Some will come true; others will fade. The important part, however, is that they are dreaming.

"It's fun to see their human potential emerge and flourish," Juntunen reflected.

The Juntunen family was relatively lucky; their adoption was completed in under a year. But Juntunen knows that many kids are not as lucky. Some get lost in the adoption process, spending years in orphanages waiting for the process to finally find them families. It's an experience that, according to Juntunen, drains these poor children.

"When you go into some of these orphanages, you see this enormous eclipse of human potential." Juntunen said. "It's a tragic and unnecessary circumstance because there is a solution."

Juntunen's personal experience led him to take a closer look into the adoption process. What he found was unnerving. He discovered international adoption has actually declined over the past eight years, despite the fact that 8 out of 10 Americans believe it is on the rise. It's not due to a lack of willing families either, as some studies have found almost 900,000 families who would want to adopt.

"Every day matters in the developmental cycle of a child," Juntunen said. "We recognize that – we have the science to validate that – but we are accepting of a process that on average takes 33 months. Then you also have this barrier of cost, with the average international adoption costing 28,000 dollars."

It's a process problem that motivated Juntunen to voice his concerns across the nation with "Stuck," a feature-length documentary he produced through his Both Ends Burning Campaign. The campaign is dedicated to stopping the decline of international adoption and the ensuing increase in orphaned and abandoned children.

And when I say that he's brought attention to the issue across the nation, it's meant literally. Juntunen and his crew have spent the last month and a half on a bus, bringing special screenings of "Stuck" to cities all over the U.S. – including Milwaukee tomorrow night at the AMC Mayfair Theatre – before concluding with the Step Forward for Orphans March in Washington, DC on May 17. The Milwaukee screening tomorrow night will also feature a Q&A session with Juntunen and international adoption attorney Kelly Ensslin, who also appears in the film.

It's been a long, tiring trip, covering 60 cities and more than 17,000 miles in 80 days, but for Juntunen, it's been more than worth it.

"Physically, it's been demanding," Juntunen said, "but emotionally and intellectually, it's been invigorating. We've met so many people, and America is a really beautiful country, which is something we easily forget."

The documentary, directed by Thaddaeus Scheel, follows four children ­– Tihun from Ethiopia, Nate from Vietnam, and Erickson and Therline from Haiti – as they make their journeys from orphanages in their native countries to their adoptive new homes in America. Their stories, ranging across four countries, ended up taking two years and two months to film.

"It was a labor of love, and every time we got discouraged or were facing challenges or roadblocks, we just remembered all of the children we came into contact with and had the privilege to get to know," Juntunen said. "Today, they're just being too easily ignored, and they deserve better."

The film only showed at two festivals, but it made enough of an impact to win the Audience Award at one festival and earn a distribution contract from Samuel Goldwyn Films. The company originally planned a more traditional release for the documentary, but Juntunen saw the potential in a different type of distribution angle.

"Social transformation occurs when new information collides with common sense," Juntunen said. "We really wanted to connect with communities, engage in a conversation and do much more than just show a film. We wanted to create a community bonding experience that's filled with thoughtful and meaningful conversation."

In the end, Juntunen developed the bus tour idea, which he and the cast and crew of "Stuck" have been very pleased with so far. At a showing in Atlanta, Juntunen was able to bring up one of the featured families of the documentary to a standing ovation. With reactions like that, Juntunen hopes to spur the kind of change that has made America the country it is today.

"Look how often America has changed its mind about issues in history," Juntunen said. "We changed our minds about slavery. We changed our minds about women's rights. We changed our minds about civil rights. But what about the rights of a child and the right of a child to belong in a family? That's the discussion we're having right now."

"Stuck" will screen Thursday night, April 25 at 7 p.m. at AMC Mayfair Theatre.


Talkbacks

Milly | April 24, 2013 at 7:16 p.m. (report)

I saw this first hand while adopting my son from Guatemala. I met people who were lost in the legal system and had been trying to get their child out of the country for a year or more. They had given up their lives, their jobs to live in a hotel in Gautemala City unknowing if they would ever get to bring their child home. Others, like myself, had a very smooth process. International adoption law changes all the time; it's frustrating when there are so many people who want children and so many children who need parents. It is equally as frustrating when I am judged for not adopting a child in the United States. All kids need love. Period.

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