FOUND – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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Viewers of the new Netflix documentary “Found” are advised to push play with open hearts and minds — along with a full and open package of tissues.

At times almost painfully intimate and emotional, the film follows three teenagers born in China, left in public places by their birth parents and then adopted and raised by American families as they go on a shared journey of self-discovery.

Between 1979 and 2015, more than 150,000 Chinese children — mostly girls — are estimated to have been given up and adopted overseas due to China’s one-child policy.

Lily Bolka, an Oklahoma State University senior who grew up in Oklahoma City, is one of those girls, and she — along with her biological cousins and fellow adoptees, Chloe Lipitz and Sadie Mangelsdorf — bravely bares her soul and shares her story in “Found.”

The film focuses on family in front of and behind the camera: Director Amanda Lipitz’s niece Chloe is one of the cousins at the heart of the film. Lipitz previously helmed the award-winning 2017 documentary “Step,” which followed the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team in inner-city Baltimore, and hopefully, she will continue to use her skills to tell more young women’s stories with such vibrant honesty.

“Found” opens with Chloe, who was adopted from China at 15 months old and grew up in Seattle and later Phoenix as part of a Jewish family, celebrating her 2017 bat mitzvah at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Around that time, the teenager discovered via the genetic testing service 23andMe that she had a biological cousin named Sadie who also had been adopted by an American family and was growing up in Nashville, Tennessee.

They soon found that they had another cousin in Lily, then 17, in OKC, and the trio connected via FaceTime and text messages.

When Bolka was a sophomore at OSU, the cousins and their adoptive parents opted to travel as a group back to China. Along with experiencing the culture, food and tourist attractions — including the Great Wall — they worked with a company called My China Roots that could delve into the trio’s infant years in their native country.

Liu Hao, their empathetic My China Roots liaison, seeks out where their biological parents left them to be found as babies, tracks down the “nannies” who cared for them in the orphanages where they lived before they were adopted, and in the case of Lily and Sadie, searches for their biological parents.

When the cousins and their adoptive parents touch down in China, Liu acts as their personal guide, even as she grapples with her own troubling experiences with the one-child policy.

At times, “Found” feels almost too intimate as the teens, their adoptive parents and potential biological relatives struggle to cope with their loss, grief and trauma.

But “Found” also provides rare, vital insight into the complex real-life impacts not only of the one-child policy but also of adoption in general. Often presented as a fix-all for issues ranging from child abuse to unwanted pregnancy, adoption comes with its own traumas and complications, as the documentary shows.

The cousins’ strengthening bond as they lean on each other in the tough moments and enjoy the fun times together supplies much-needed levity over the course of the film. The trio is to be commended for their courage in allowing their families, lives and experiences to be laid bare.

Plus, don’t miss the hopeful coda the director includes at the end of “Found.”

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.