The movie is directed by and stars Albert Chan, who himself adopted a baby with his his husband. The film picked up the 2013
National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Media Award to go with the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2013 Desperado LGBT Film Festival in Phoenix, Audience Favorite (Short Series) at the 2012 Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, an Award of Excellence at the 2013 Canada International Film Festival, Best Supporting Actress at the Summer 2012 Asians on Film Festival, and a Best LGBT Film nomination at the 2013 Out in the Desert: Tucson’s International LGBT Film Festival.
Actor & director Albert Chan answered the following questions for AsAmNews.
How long were you and your husband in a relationship before you decided you wanted to have children?
We met in 2003, got engaged in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage, and got married in 2005. We’d always known we wanted kids, but weren’t sure when the right time was – he’s developing a career in cancer research, and I’m developing an acting and film making career. In 2010, we finally decided to have a child because I came to the realization that there will never be the perfect time and if you sit around waiting for it, it might end up being too late. We adopted our son in 2011.
Describe the ups and downs of going through the adoption process being a gay couple?
There are already so many ups and downs that all prospective parents go through in the very unpredictable adoption process, and each adoption story is so unique. The Commitment was inspired by some of the ups and downs we experienced in real life. Although being a gay couple didn’t necessarily contribute to specific ups and downs, it certainly made the adoption process that much more unique for us. In the domestic adoption process, potential birthmothers are given profiles of prospective adoptive parents, and they choose who they want to parent their child. We weren’t sure how birthmothers would feel about a gay couple, but it slowly became apparent that being gay made us stand out get noticed. In fact, there were birthmothers who were even asking for gay parents! It really all depends on a birthmother’s point of view – perhaps she was raised by gay parents or had a gay sibling, or just wanted to place her baby with a couple who couldn’t biologically have their own.
To what extent does being both gay and in a multi-racial marriage change the dynamics of raising your child?
During the adoption process, prospective parents usually have the opportunity to state ethnicities they are open to for their adopted child. Choosing racial preferences is really a personal decision, and there are no right or wrong answers. Prospective adoptive parents have to decide what’s best for their family and what they feel comfortable with. Since I’m Asian and my husband is Caucasian, we were open to Asian, Caucasian, and Asian/Caucasian mixed children. We felt that introducing a third ethnicity into our family would complicate things a bit! Our adopted son ended up being Caucasian, but that still hasn’t stopped me from celebrating Chinese New Year, talking Cantonese to him, and giving him Chinese food. Who knows, maybe I’ll enroll him in Chinese school, too! In the end, culture and traditions are more about family than the race itself, so I don’t think the multi-racial aspect has changed the dynamics of raising our son. Similarly, I also don’t think being gay changes the dynamics of raising our son.
How supportive has society been of you raising a child with your husband?
We’re very fortunate to be living in an era in which we can get legally married and have kids. And with each passing year, more and more Americans support marriage equality. We’re also fortunate to be living in an urban area like Boston, where there are plenty of other gay families. So we’ve had no issues whatsoever with society giving us a hard time. I also believe in the power of teaching by example – if my family doesn’t make a big deal out of a gay couple raising children, then chances are that society also won’t either.
How much of the film is based on your own experience?
The Commitment is based on our earliest experiences during the adoption process. Shortly after we registered with an adoption agency, we received news that a young pregnant woman, looking to be matched with a gay couple, had chosen us as adoptive parents. In the ensuing weeks, we hastened to make the final preparations for our baby boy – selecting a pediatrician, borrowing a variety of baby items, choosing a daycare, and readying ourselves to be fathers of a newborn. Then, on the day we were supposed to meet the birthmother for the first time, the agency called and canceled our appointment, informing us that the woman had granted guardianship of her son to family friends instead. I dealt with the feelings of loss and disappointment the only way I knew how – I wrote a screenplay! I couldn’t help but let my imagination run a bit and imagine what that meeting with the birthmother would have been like and what kinds of things might have been said. It really is a very awkward situation. What do you actually say to a woman who wants to give you her unborn child? What are your first lines going to be like? Are you going to hug the person, are you not going to hug the person? You don’t know each other, so how intimate do you want to be? Those were the sorts of things from my imagination that I wrote into the screenplay. I also based the two main characters on myself and my real-life husband, but I exaggerated some personality traits for dramatic effect, making my character neurotic and his character a workaholic. At screenings of The Commitment, I’ve been asked if my real-life husband approves of the way he’s portrayed in the film, and I always say absolutely – it’s a work of fiction inspired by real life, with everything heightened, intensified, and manipulated for the purposes of telling a story.
Many of the others who worked on the film have personal experience with the adoption process. Was this an intentional choice or a fortunate coincidence?
In addition to myself being an adoptive parent, two of the other three actors in the cast are personally connected to adoption. Mary Niederkorn, who plays the adoption social worker Susan, has an adopted son, and Kerri Patterson, who play the birthmother Victoria, is herself adopted. This was more of a coincidence, as I was friends with them already as fellow actors, and I had them in mind even as I was writing the script. Our sound mixer/editor John Gage, who is adopted, was someone I hired after placing an ad in Craigslist. In addition to his excellent resume and warm personality, what really sealed the deal was his passion about working on a film about adoption. So you could say that John was a fortunate coincidence.
Why did you choose to write and direct a drama instead of a documentary?
I consider myself an actor first and foremost, so it was a no-brainer for me to turn my story into a narrative film. I felt that in addition to sharing an important story with the world, this would be an excellent opportunity to showcase my acting and storytelling abilities.
How difficult is it to direct yourself as an actor?
I intentionally wrote The Commitment to have a small cast of four characters, so that there would be a very tight ensemble of talented actors that I could trust to bring the story to life. I had worked extensively on past projects with the other three actors, so I was familiar with them as actors and I knew that we could all work together in a way that would maximize our inspiration and creativity. The other actors demanded very much from themselves and often times knew to make adjustments without me even directing them to. So directing myself was no more difficult than just acting. When casting is done well, most of the directing work is done!
Do you recall a scene when someone had approached you to suggest you as an actor you played the scene all wrong? If so describe what happened? If it did not happen how would you have handled it if it did happen?
We had a very professional, yet relaxed set, so the cast and crew were in an environment where it was safe to contribute and make suggestions. Fellow actors were giving me useful notes on my performance. I remember one point when the cinematographer Andrew Nalband (who’s also trained as an actor) was trying to help me make a scene for which we’d done many takes fresh again. Even John, our sound mixer would let us know when dialogue he heard over his headphones didn’t sound right from a performance standpoint.
What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
We’ve had quite a bit of success on the indie film festival circuit at mainstream festivals and in multiple niches – the LGBT community, the Asian-American population, and, to a smaller extent, people in adoptive families. For many audiences, especially those with unique interests, the film champions the cause of the modern family. When a film deals with social issues using real, authentic human characters, it really has the greatest power to change hearts and minds, which I think is fantastic. However, making a political film wasn’t really my intention. My intention was to make a film about two people in love and committed to each other, based on my own unique point of view as a gay, Asian, adoptive parent. For me, the film is universal, and I think that audiences must see that too since such a wide variety of people have complemented us on the incredible heart and power of the film.
What’s next for the Commitment?
The Commitment is still in the middle of its festival run. For the lastest schedule, visit http://thecommitmentmovie.com/screenings.php. We are also in the process of distributing The Commitment to a wider audience beyond the festival circuit. We recently signed with a distributor that sells to educational institutions, organizations, schools, and libraries, and we are currently discussing with a distributor of LGBT content as well. Stay tuned to our webpage at http://thecommitmentmovie.com for these developments before the end of 2013!