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Adopting Olya: DVD

Adopting Olya. In English. 30 minutes. NTSC format, all regions. ISBN 1-58269-030-8 (one video DVD). US Copyright Registration Number PA0001312089 Director of photography: Slavomir Grunberg. Edited and produced by S. Grunberg and S. Paperno. $29.00.

For twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost every flight from Moscow to New York City carried a few American families with Russian children—all with pasty complexions and brand new, ill fitting American clothing. Russian law allowed foreign nationals to adopt Russian orphans. But there was a catch: only children with birth defects and incurable medical conditions could be adopted. In some cases, the problems were minor and readily treatable, but some children were diagnosed with vague ailments and developmental delays that were hard to quantify. They did make the children available for adoption—that was the important thing.

When you are in Russia to adopt an orphan, do you know if the child truly has a medical a problem, or are these developmental delays normal for a child raised in an orphanage? Perhaps the diagnosis is actually a well-intentioned lie, in hopes that the child will have a far better life in the US? Or maybe it is a callous device used by local officials to keep the lucrative adoption business going?


Four-year-old Olya has lived in a Children's Home all her life. We learn that she was an “unplanned” child, and that she was placed in the Home at birth. Born prematurely, Olya has been diagnosed with a vague developmental disability. We watch her playing with the other children and meet her favorite caregiver, whom she calls “Grandma.” Though little Olya has no idea of the changes ahead, the adults around her are both happy and fearful. “We’ve never had a child go so far away,” says one caregiver. She turns to a group of children, tears streaming down her cheeks, “I’m crying from joy, children, I’m glad, really.”

Olya’s new parents Sam and Meredith arrive, excited and exhausted. Chelyabinsk is a remote place, and the two Californians stand out in their bright T-shirts and shorts. Olya is shy of these strange adults, and even a pretty new dress can’t quite draw her out. The adoption goes as planned, and we learn about the process: the donation made to the orphanage seems to end up in the pockets of local officials, and Sam and Meredith are sternly told that Olya’s original birth certificate will be destroyed. A new birth certificate is issued, and Sam and Meredith laugh: according to the document, they had a baby in Chelyabinsk four years ago.

The film ends a year later in California. It may be watched online in our Cloud pages. But some viewers may prefer the DVD with its superior image and sound quality. Since the narration and subtitles are in English, we are not offering this film as a language learning tool. It is an emotionally charged story of one family in very unusual circumstances. And it does teach us something about Russia.

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