A Homecoming like No Other: Interviewing the Creators of the Stolen Children Film

Interview with Director Elizabeth Jacobs and Producer Phoebe J Yung on their upcoming documentary film that will reveal the truth behind Jacobs' adoption.

Elizabeth Jacobs (Director)

Elizabeth Jacobs is a rising senior majoring in marketing, communication, and film studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is in the commonwealth honors college.. She has been making films since high school and has worked at five internships which has helped prepare her to direct and produce her very first feature film. Jacobs spent much of her childhood in Lexington, Massachusetts, but plans to move out to Los Angeles after finishing her degree to become a director for narrative feature films.

Phoebe J Yung (Producer & Production Assistant Director)

Phoebe J Yung is a sophomore at New York University Tisch School of the Arts studying film and television. As a student filmmaker, she has won awards for exploring the difficulties of relationships and enjoys character-driven narratives. Her most recent project as co-director, Sunflower, wrapped in July, and she is now working on producing multiple short films this upcoming school year. Phoebe has completed several internships in scripted development and sales, working at the Cannes Film Festival and the European Film Market in addition to interning with Academy Gold partner, Fremantle, this summer.

Jacob Roy: 

Firstly, how did you get into film and media production? Phoebe, how did you end up working with Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Jacobs: 

When I was in high school, I actually never thought I would study film. My goals were toward studying marketing because that is what I thought best suited me. That was until Junior year I had a best friend who committed suicide at age seventeen and this event changed everything for me. During my senior year of high school I was taking a media class and our final project was to create a short film. At the time, I was still dealing with the passing of my friend and I did not know how to express my emotions. I then went on to create a film about mental illness awareness and the principal got a hold of my film and wanted to share it to the entire school. This was when I knew that my vision and purpose for film had a greater impact than just a way to cope.

Now I strive to direct and create films that help tell stories that people may have not been able to come out alive and continue their own stories. As for my best friend, I know that she was loved and cared for and the situation that she was in was something that should not define her or her peers. I want to focus on the story that made them the person they were and not the action that ended their stories. 

Phoebe J Yung:

Film production was a career I knew I wanted to go into since the 7th grade. Once the realization hit that I wanted to become a filmmaker, I did everything I could to make sure I was learning as much as I possibly could. This included doing internships in high school, and my first official internship was at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. I was paired with Elizabeth as roommates in France, and we navigated the festival together for two weeks. She told me she wanted to create a documentary for her senior thesis about her adoption after the program ended and, after a few months of discussion, she invited me to be the first crew member to join her as the assistant director. After two years on the project, I was promoted to be a producer. I started working with Elizabeth on The Stolen Children when I was 16 years old.

Roy:

As a young director with a young crew, how has it been trying to get media outlets, donors, etc. to take you and your project seriously? .

Jacobs:

To be honest, at the beginning it was a struggle to get noticed and develop an audience who would truly be interested in our project. As a young Director and this being my first feature film ever, I definitely came into the project timid. That said, overtime I grew confidence in my work because my assistant director/ producer Phoebe and my other producer Brea have shown me they fully believe in the project and the amount of work they out into it showed me that this is a project worth fighting for in the media. From then on, I believe people take our project seriously because we are very transparent in the fact that we are student-directed, produced, and shot film. We are young filmmakers from top to bottom and I think that says something about what this film means and how genuine it is. We are here to make a story and to speak out. We are not here for the money or the publicity. Of course these are a plus but our main goal from the beginning was to educate and build community and that is what we will continue to do both inside the film with our interns and crew and outside the film with our supporters. 

Yung: 

As the person who has been in charge of social media outreach, the process of getting noticed hasn’t been easy, yet it’s so necessary for crowdfunding! This past spring, I started messaging several accounts on Instagram that were mainly Asian American activist accounts. I began to pitch our story to them and ask them to post infographics about our project and mission. Everyone we have pitched to has formed a relationship with us, and we are so appreciative of our collaborative work! Our team takes the documentary seriously, and our passion reflects in all of our hard work; ultimately, people take an interest in topics that others are passionate about, and that seems to really be the case

Roy: 

For many adoptees, it’s difficult to share their adoption stories because it’s so personal and often filled with a sense of loss. What has it been like being so open and vulnerable to your team, and eventually the world about your story? On some level is there a sense of freedom or empowerment?

Jacobs: 

I would say I have been very privileged to be able to speak on my adoption experience as I have not felt any animosity or hesitation to talk about my adoption. My family has always been accepting of me being adopted and pursuing more answers about my biological family. Because of this, I believe that if I share my personal story to the world, other adoptees will see that there is a safe atmosphere/space to talk about one’s adoption and it is possible to find out more if you just start talking. Communication is key and if people cannot have a productive conversation with their family, at least they know that there is someone out there who will listen because they have been through something similar. 

I also would like to pride in the fact that this documentary is an adoptee narrative that is done BY the adoptee and has not been manipulated or tweaked by a production company, producers, or someone who does not represent the community. Adoptee representation is important and we want to offer the most authentic and accurate representation there is.

Roy: 

When you’re adopted, it’s often hard for many others to see you as something else. That almost becomes your identity, as a creator who has also worked on other film projects has this been a struggle for you?

Jacobs:

In my personal experience, I have not run into any discrimination as an adoptee per se. Being adopted is an important part of who I am but it is not the only thing about me. As an Asian woman a part of the LGBTQ community, I find it hard to put myself into one bucket. Society is always going to stick labels on people but I believe that people who support you and genuinely are interested in your message and work will recognize the many communities that you belong to.

Roy: 

It’s always felt like adoptions have been glamorized by the media, this holds especially true with social media accounts dedicated to promoting adoption and often depicting it in a trendy way, which always ignores the harsh reality especially for adoptees. How do you think your documentary will challenge this, and was this something that you had in the back of your mind  while preparing for this film?

Yung: 

By the documentary taking such a personal perspective, the project is really trying to encourage a safe space for others while taking the time to educate people with research and facts. Many docs will use an outsider as a narrator, and the story loses its authenticity. The Stolen Children is based on Elizabeth’s life – you can’t get any realer than that.

Jacobs: 

In addition to what Phoebe said earlier, the way we are planning on structuring this film definitely reflects what you have stated. Corruption in the adoption system is very real and exists everywhere. In our three act structure for the film, we start off shooting the “postcard beauty” of Cambodia. The beginning of this film is going to be bright in color and rich in culture. But then once we enter act two, we get to the darker side of adoptions and dive deeper into what third world countries go through.

Roy: 

I think Asian adoptees always experience the model minority myth in a very real, but different way than other Asians. How do you think it has impacted you both as filmmakers whether that means in this film, other projects you’ve worked on, or in the industry in general? 

Jacobs: 

Within the industry, adoption is always glorified and so that is why this documentary will shine light on the unfortunate side of what it means to be an adoptee and the trauma it can come with and/or the lack of closure you can have after adoption (where I am coming from). Just because we are Asian and adopted does not mean we have not experienced  adversity. Everyone does and it is because of this film that we will get the opportunity to show that to people. 

Yung: 

Although I am not an adoptee, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the film industry. I have worked on several projects, most of the time leading my own in some way or another. Of course, there is not a lot of representation for Asian adoptees right now – that’s what The Stolen Children film is going to change. The project is going to give them a voice.

Roy: 

What has that journey been like as a WOC female and who did you look up to in this space? Did you ever have a difficult time finding someone to look up to?

Jacobs: 

As someone who came into the industry late, I would say it was quite hard to find someone to look up to. Asian representation in the film industry is very small and so I want to be a part of the generation of female Asian filmmakers to change that. It is hard enough as a female in film to get  to the position you want to be in without running into challenges, especially if you are a woman of color. I have experienced it first hand in my internships and even in my classes. The men that do group projects with me felt the need to talk down to me as if I knew nothing and the behavior I witnessed in my internships in regards to networking were inappropriate and degrading. My team and I strive for inclusion and you see that in our diversity when it comes to our production crew and internship program.

Yung: 

There are very few famous Asian Americans in the film industry to look up to today. The only director I can name who looks like me is Lulu Wang, and I only found out about her in 2019 when The Farewell released. All my life, I have been looking up to several artists – never really just one in particular. Because while there may not be a lot of Asian directors to look up to at the moment, I know that this is going to change. For now, I have been admiring the work of directors whose work I personally align with. Films with character-driven narratives have always inspired me and I prefer to look further into individual pieces of work rather than just one person’s entire career. Being a woman in film has been a struggle in and of itself as well, and on top of that, I am attempting to enter the industry at a young age. There’s a lot of predetermined judgement towards women, likewise to many other careers. I’ve worked with plenty of people who would constantly doubt what I’m saying on set, when I ended up being right – but I still have so much to learn. Every set is a new experience with new people, so my goal has been to surround myself with other POC creators and women in order to further understand our potential via everyone’s unique perspectives.

Roy:

I know you’re planning to leave early next year, while this will be a very serious trip, what are you most excited for? 

Jacobs: 

I am most excited for the film photography that I will be able to capture while we are there! Documentary aside, I think film photography gives off a sense of realism because once you take the picture, you cannot dramatise or manipulate the photo. I feel as though Cambodia can be a very “instagramable” place like Bali or Thailand because people will edit their photos to accentuate the “beauty” of Cambodia. Film photography is a one shot opportunity and what you get is what you get. That is what I love about film.

Yung: 

I really enjoy architecture, and Cambodia has some very famous temples I’m looking forward to seeing. And personally, on set, the relationships you form with crew members during downtime is unmatchable. For 3 weeks, we’re bunking with our 9 crew members, sharing our space at all times, eating together, shooting together – doing pretty much everything together. Almost everyone on the crew is connected; I was a grade below the DP in high school, the composer is my best friend from home, Elizabeth and I interned with one of our cinematographers and our gaffer… the list continues and the film is connected in so many ways. Getting to further know our colleagues is something I’m really looking forward to.

Jacobs:

I am most excited for the film photography that I will be able to capture while we are there! Documentary aside, I think film photography gives off a sense of realism because once you take the picture, you cannot dramatize or manipulate the photo. I feel as though Cambodia can be a very “instagramable” place like Bali or Thailand because people will edit their photos to accentuate the “beauty” of Cambodia. Film photography is a one shot opportunity and what you get is what you get. That is what I love about film.

Roy:

If there’s one thing you want people to know about or your documentary, what would that be? 

Jacobs:

This project is about normalizing having a conversation between adoptees and adoptive parents. We want to educate people of the corruption that surrounds adoption and create a community that is safe for other adoptees to talk to one another about their experiences with their own adoption. 

We had no plans in investigating any celebrity adoption and we will not let tabloids spread misinformation about what this documentary is truly about. It is about adoptees and what adoptees want in regard to their adoption. 

Yung:

As the project gets more attention, I’ve been seeing some people falsely understand our mission. I want to emphasize that The Stolen Children has and always will be centered around creating a safe space for people to become educated, especially about the Lauryn Galindo scandal. This documentary will hopefully be recognized for the hard work behind the scenes, and I really hope that our film assists in furthering developing the future for Asian Americans in film.


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