News / Arts & Entertainment

Documentary Follows American Family’s Russian Adoption

The Dark Matter of Love, A Documentary on One American Family’s Russian Adoptioni
X
November 27, 2013 9:46 PM
A documentary that tells the story of three Russian children adopted by an American couple has become especially relevant in the wake of Russia’s 2012 ban on U.S. adoptions. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Carolyn Weaver
The Dark Matter of Love opens with home video showing Cheryl Diaz holding her newborn daughter, Cami, her oldest child with husband Claudio. It’s an apt beginning for a documentary exploring the science of human attachment through the story of the couple’s three other children, adopted from Russia several years ago.
 
The Diazes, who live in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin, had wanted more children, but failed to have another successful pregnancy. So, when Cami was 14, the family traveled to Russia - accompanied by a documentary film crew - to adopt five-year-old twins Marcel and Vadim, and an unrelated girl, 11-year-old Masha.
 
Australian film director Sarah McCarthy says she had wanted to make a documentary about the science of infant attachment, love and parent-child bonding. She found the Diazes through University of Virginia psychologist Robert Marvin, an expert in therapy with families of adopted and foster children.
 
“I wanted to meet the family before they adopted three new children, and I wanted to see what happened to them as they went through that process,” she said. “And when I met the Diazes, I just feel instantly in love with them. They sent me some hilarious pictures of themselves in matching pajamas at Christmas, and I just thought, this is the family I’m going to spend the next couple of years with.”
 
In fact, McCarthy and her cinematographer moved in next door to the Diazes for a year and a half. Their camera captures many poignant moments, as the family begins a difficult adjustment.
 
Claudio is exhausted, and he and Cheryl pull away from each other. Cami feels displaced, no longer the focus of her parents’ attention. Masha is emotionally withdrawn, while the twins resist authority with all their five-year-old might, throwing tantrums and yelling insults at their new father in Russian that he, luckily, does not understand - although the film’s subtitles enlighten the viewer.
 
“It’s difficult for parents to understand the behavior of the adopted children,” McCarthy said,“because they will just push you away and push you away, and it’s not because they’re evil or because they’re trying to hurt you. It’s because they’ve grown up in an orphanage and that’s the way they’ve learned to survive.”
 
McCarthy interweaves scenes of the family’s life with archival film documenting the early study of parent-infant bonding. The science of attachment began in the 1950s and 1960s, with British psychologist John Bowlby, who theorized that infants need a secure relationship with at least one person who cares for them consistently and lovingly in order to develop normally emotionally and socially.
 
“Having a relationship with one or a few specific people is absolutely crucial to a child’s developing brain, and if the child doesn’t have that partner, then those neural networks don’t get laid down,” Robert Marvin explains in The Dark Matter of Love.
 
In the 1960s, an American psychologist Harry Harlow carried out experiments with rhesus monkeys deprived of their mothers. Film of those early experiments, with baby monkeys seeking comfort from cloth-covered wire “mothers,” is a chilling hint at the emotional lives of children growing up in orphanages where there may be one caregiver for every 25 children.
 
“And that adult, even with the very best of intentions, can’t give the child they interaction they need to learn and feel good about themselves,” McCarthy said.
 
But research also shows, she noted, that young brains can rewire, and that orphans can thrive once they are in a loving family, as the Diaz children have. “The kids are just blossoming and flourishing in the most extraordinary way,” she said.
 
The Dark Matter of Love
has become unexpectedly relevant in the wake of Russia’s ban in 2012 on U.S. adoptions, which halted 300 adoptions underway. McCarthy is now using her film to campaign against the ban.
 
“I think the law was politically motivated,” she said. “Having lived an adoption story with Masha, Marcel and Vadim, I was there when they met their family, and I saw these little kids who’d spent their lives in orphanages, wishing for the day when a mother and father were coming to take them away and that day comes, and that dream just comes alive for these children. And there are 300 kids out there who have had that process interrupted. What do you say to a three-year-old child who’s asking for that mum and that dad that came to see them?”
 
Adoption in Russia is still comparatively uncommon, she observed, with minimal governmental support for adoptive families. The future of children raised in Russian orphanages is bleak. When children age out at 17 or 18, they often end up living on the streets, resorting to crime or prostitution to survive.
 
McCarthy titled her film after the substance that astronomers hypothesize must exist to account for much of the mass that is missing from the universe.

“Dark matter is responsible for 70 percent of the known universe, and we know very little about it. And love is responsible for at least 70 percent of who we are as people, and we know very little about how that works,” she said.
 
The Dark Matter of Love has aired on British television, and played to strong reviews at film festivals in the U.S. and Canada. It has also been screened in Moscow and other cities by groups lobbying for repeal of the ban.

Interview by Victoria Kupchinetsky.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.