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 Masha is emotionally withdrawn, while the twins resist authority with all their five-year-old might, throwing tantrums and yelling insults at their new father in Russian that he, luckily,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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”