Thaddaeus Scheel is a filmmaker who made a movie about the unforeseen difficulties of starting a family. Stuck is a great movie about a group of families who face bureaucratic impossibilities as they try to bring home their adopted children. Thaddaeus was very gracious to talk to us about where it was the hardest places to film and what it meant to emotionally connect with these families.
Heartland Film Festival: As a documentarian you are supposed to stay removed but with stories like these, that seems impossible not to become emotionally invested in these families. Did you start to experience the same frustration as they fought the system?
Thaddaeus: I was incredibly moved by each of their stories and shared their joys and frustrations with each new development. As a filmmaker, I was looking for families that faced a mountain of bureaucratic challenges, while hoping that they would prevail in the short timeframe we had to shoot the film. The more challenges they faced the more opportunity we had to create a film that revealed the struggles that are all too common in intercountry adoption, so it was a mix of emotions for me.
Heartland Film Festival: While you were doing research for this film, what were some of the shocking pieces of information that you found about the adoption bureaucracy?
Thaddaeus: I found the general lack of urgency on the State Department and governments around the world to address the needs of these children, to be shocking. These are intelligent people with the power and resources to negotiate complex treaties, trade agreements and disaster response on a global scale, yet placing a severely neglected child in a loving family in a reasonable timeframe seems to be beyond their abilities…. or at least their priorities.
Heartland Film Festival: When you are filming these families, you don’t know how long the process is going to be for them. Was there ever a point when you didn’t know when you would stop filming?
Thaddaeus: The choice of which family to follow and for how long was a challenge and something we considered carefully. As you can see in the film, the average adoption is nearly three years, our production window was half that time. The point in which we entered into their stories would require a different approach with each family. We were fortunate that all the families had some home video footage that we could use for the period before we started filming. We then just crossed our fingers that their adoptions would move forward to some resolution, good or bad before we ran out of time to complete the film. There were several families that we interviewed that never brought their children home.
Heartland Film Festival: The families had a lot of problem with gathering information and where they were allowed to be. As a filmmaker, did you run into any difficulties about trying to gain access to particular places or interview specific people? Was filming in different countries difficult?
Thaddaeus: We encountered problems with government officials in several countries. My main camera and most of my gear was held at the airport in Ethiopia for three days because they didn’t approve our paperwork. The situation was very chaotic and we were able to move two smaller DSLR cameras into our cleared bags without them noticing. Otherwise we would have been playing cards at the hotel for three days! There was also a funny moment when we “hired” police officers for security while they were on duty… and in the middle of shooting they head up production to check our permits.
In Vietnam, they require a government official to be with film crews at all times so we applied for a tourist visa, packed lightly and tried not to be to flashy with the gear. I wanted to interview Vietnamese adoption officials, but that just wasn’t possible under the tight scrutiny.
Now that I think about it, the biggest hassle we faced was right in front of our own Capital Building (and ironically just a few blocks from the actual Bill of Rights) where police held us for an hour in ninety degree heat as they checked our ID’s. At which point they handed them back, and cheerfully said “good luck with the film!”
Heartland Film Festival: Is there a next project that you are working on?
Thaddaeus: At the time if this interview we are still working on the film and will then be out promoting it, so haven’t committed to any future projects at this point. I’d like to shoot a short film with the children at the orphanage in Haiti, a scripted fantastical tale that came to me while I was there with them, for the documentary.
Heartland Film Festival: What are some of the moving films that inspired you as a filmmaker?
Thaddaeus: There have been many films that have inspired me over the years… Recently, I’ve seen two docs that left me stunned. The first was Hell & Back Again directed by Danfung Dennis which takes the viewer inside the mind of a US marine at war and at home. This film works on every level. The second was Mugabe and the White African which is beautifully shot and brims with tension throughout.
Thank you for screening Stuck at Heartland, I see this “truly moving” support as a major step toward helping these children find their way into a loving family.
You can purchase tickets for Stuck for the following days…
- Sunday, October 21 at 5 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
- Monday, October 22 at 5 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Tuesday, October 23 at 7:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Saturday, October 27 at 1:15 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar