Q&A: How ‘Found’ Explores International Adoption and the One-child Policy

Scrolling through Netflix this holiday weekend? We’ve got something to add to your queue.

The documentary “Found,” which premiered on Netflix on Oct. 20, follows three adopted Chinese American girls: Chloe, Sadie and Lily, biological cousins adopted across the U.S. who get to know one another after taking DNA tests. Over the course of the film the trio decide to embark on a trip to China, during which two of the three girls hope to find the birth parents who gave them up for adoption. Aided by genealogy researcher Liu Hao, the girls visit the orphanages that helped raise them and learn more about their adoptive families, their birth country and the devastating human consequences of China’s controversial one-child policy, which directly contributed to a rise in international adoption.

Shortly before the film’s Oct. 20 premiere, we caught up with the documentary’s producer Anita Gou (“The Farewell”) and director Amanda Lipitz, who’s also Chloe’s aunt. Read our full Q&A with them below, then stream “Found” on Netflix.

Character: So, what was your original vision for ‘Found,’ and how did that evolve over time? 

Amanda Lipitz: My vision was really to tell human stories, and I was also inspired by the moment you see in the film, where Chloe is handed to my sister-in-law by her nanny, and this woman’s face looked so happy and yet so sad. And I always wondered, ‘Who is that woman and how do we find her? How do we tell these stories?’ I could also see the blossoming interest my niece was having from meeting another Asian American teen, and she was a blood relative, so I wanted to follow that journey. And when we met Liu Hao, she became our fourth girl in [the documentary], this other side of the story of what it was like to grow up in China during this time. I knew I needed to follow her and they were all destined to meet.

This film is also deeply personal and touches on so many emotionally difficult details of different people’s lives, particularly when it comes to the three girls. What were some of your main concerns about that as you went into the filming process?

AL: We always put the girls’ emotional wellbeing ahead of any filmmaking, and they knew at any time if they didn’t feel comfortable we were going to stop. With young women in very vulnerable situations, my priority is to create an environment of safety and love—checking in with the parents, checking in with the girls. There were moments, like the scene when Lily doesn’t want to look at the photos of Mr. Chen. I looked right at Lily and we went off on our own, and I said, ‘We don’t need to do this anymore.’ And she looked right at me. She’s like, ‘What? Of course we’re doing this.’ The girls gave all of us strength. They were so brave; they gave us courage to keep going when it got scary standing by watching them—not as a filmmaker, but as an aunt.

Anita Gou: We applied the same approach when we were in China, too. Especially as we started working with Liu Hao and got to know her, we realized she was going to be our conduit into the lives of these families we were meeting. We deferred so much to her and our incredible crew in China in building the trust with the folks that we ended up having conversations with, to let them know this was an opportunity for them to tell their stories. But the priority was to make sure they felt safe and comfortable going in.

Of course, there are a lot of heavy moments in the film, but there’s also a lot of joy. On these girls’ trip to China, you can just sense the excitement. So what were some of your favorite days or favorite moments filming this?

AL: We had so many. You traditionally show up at the orphanages with diapers and formula, so we had this crazy shopping spree in the middle of this nursery and the girls were picking out stuff to take to the orphanage. And then we walked outside and there was a Pikachu parade going on, and there’s 10 people dressed in puffy Pikachu costumes. And the girls were dying. We were all dying. There’s just fun stuff like that.

AG: We celebrated a birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve together. It was a big family holiday trip that we took to China together. And we had to squeeze it all into 104 minutes. So there’s a lot on the cutting room floor, but hopefully the montage of China that we put together in the film captures the energy that was felt.

What does the title, ‘Found,’ mean to you?

AL: There are all these beautiful, funny moments about what it means to be in these situations. So, on that basic level, it was that [Chloe, Sadie and Lily] found each other. They found Liu Hao; they found their adoptive parents; they found parents that had given birth to children. There was a journey of discovering and continuing to discover, and it’s really not just about the family you’re born into, it’s about the family you find along the way in your life. That was really the most beautiful thing about the film, because we watched these girls fall in love with each other and find this family they never expected.

And how do you hope viewers will respond to this film?

AG: As an Asian woman, I know if I were an audience member and I got to see this on TV, I would feel so proud and like I have new heroes to look up to. I’ve been continuously surprised and inspired by the girls and their courage and how open they are to sharing their stories. And I know it’s so meaningful for them to be able to offer that courage to other people by extension, and that hopefully is going to be something that will resonate with the audiences. Seeing these really strong young women going on theirs will be empowering for audiences to go on their own journey.

AL: We’re excited for the whole family to sit down and watch this film together and for multiple generations to have conversations and ask questions that maybe they didn’t know they had or maybe they were too scared to say. All questions are good questions. I’m excited to see how that plays out around dinner tables in the world.