At a Congressional preview hosted by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) Tuesday, guests had the opportunity to view "Stuck," a documentary exposing the broken system of international adoption. Some of the families and adopted children featured in the film were also there, along with Foster Friess, a billionaire philanthropist who helped fund the film.
"Members of Congress disagree on many issues, but one we can all agree on is that every child does need a protective and loving family," Landrieu, head of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, told the audience in remarks before the viewing. "Governments do many things well, raising children is not one of them. Children are best raised under the watchful eye, loving arms, of parents or at least one responsible adult that will help them to learn how to be a productive and successful human being,"
The documentary was the brainchild of Craig Juntunen, founder of Both Ends Burning Foundation, an organization that promotes adoption. The purpose of the film is to "get the word out" and expose the issue of the troubled international adoption system, Juntunen told The Christian Post. Juntunen noted how other recent documentaries have been successful at bringing awareness to issues, such as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Waiting for Superman."
"Stuck" will publicly debut at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival on Aug. 3. It is expected to premiere nationwide in Nov. 2012.
Seven out of 10 Americans believe that inter-country adoption is on the rise, Juntunen said, when, in fact, the numbers have dropped dramatically. International adoptions to the United States have dropped 60 percent since 2004, going from 22,991 to only 9,319 in 2011.
The film points to many culprits that explain the decline, including the U.S. State Department, UNICEF, a United Nations agency designed to help children, and the Hague Treaty. The Hague Treaty was begun by the United Nations to bring transparency, clarity and coordination to the inter-country adoption process. Landrieu introduced the bill that brought the United States into the treaty, but expressed regret in the film after seeing the results.
The goal of the Hauge Treaty is to make certain that every child adopted cross nationally is a legitimate orphan in need of a family. The treaty places such strict requirements on its signers, however, that many children who need a home are left in orphanages. Nations that have signed on, or attempted to sign on, to the Hauge Treaty, have seen a dramatic decline in inter-country adoptions. Some nations have even stopped inter-country adoptions altogether after being encouraged by UNICEF to sign onto the treaty.
"Stuck" follows the lives of five orphaned children – each with unique circumstances, unique challenges in the adoption process, and unique outcomes by the end of the film.
Nick and Lori Leroy were among the parents featured in the documentary. They first adopted a child from Vietnam when he was only seven months old. Vietnam shut down inter-country adoptions before the adoption was complete, effectively halting the process for the Leroys. Rather than giving up and adopting another child in a different country, the Leroys decided to fight for little Nate. The film recounts their nearly four year long struggle, including an extreme intervention by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on their behalf.
The U.S. State Department was "more of a hindrance than a help," Lori Leroy told The Christian Post. She hopes that inter-country adoptions will be taken out of the hands of the State Department and placed under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which the Leroys found to be much more helpful.
The State Department "doesn't seem to want to be involved," Lori Leroy said.
At one point in the filming process, the "Stuck" film project was in danger of being canceled for lack of funds. That was when Friess was introduced to the project and donated the $500,000 needed to finish the film.
"It's not my money, it's God's money," Friess said in remarks after the viewing.
Friess told The Christian Post that he was "oblivious" to the problems surrounding international adoptions before Juntunen brought the issue to his attention. He hopes that the film will inspire people to put pressure on Congress to, in turn, put pressure on the State Department to use its influence in bringing about the reforms that will enable more orphans to be matched to loving families eager to adopt them.
Friess also noted in his speech the bipartisan nature of the effort to improve inter-country adoptions.
"Here is Mary Landrieu – a Democrat! And here I am, to the right of Rick Santorum. I love her!" Friess said as the crowd responded with laughter and cheers.
"I love you too," Landrieu shouted back from the audience.