Hope’s Home (USA, 2021) [SF IndieFest 2021]

Hope is about to take her first trip to China since she was an infant. She’s stunned by how little she remembers the place, and though she starts her journey with great anticipation, she finds it hard to truly connect with her natal home. Will she ever regain that part of her identity?

The One Child Policy was enacted by the Chinese Communist party in 1979 as a means to control the country’s rapidly growing population. While most westerners are familiar with China’s infamous policy, very few know of the grim details and long-term consequences that the policy had. The 2019 documentary, One Child Nation, brought attention to the fallout of the One Child Policy, one aspect of which was the large number of abandoned children (mostly girls) offered for adoptions overseas. These children never knew, and likely will never know their true parents. The protagonist of Li Yue’s mini-documentary, Hope’s Home, is one of those children, one of many hoping to find something of her origins, and hence, her identity.

In its 26-minute runtime, Hope’s Home follows the titular character, Hope Fengmei Christopher, the adopted daughter of Kerry and Desiree Christopher, on her first trip to China. As an infant, Hope was abandoned by her birth parents on a train station, where she was rescued by another family and subsequently taken to an orphanage. Many years later, Hope feels like a part of her heritage is missing and wants to find out more about her origins. Now, she’s finally going back to visit the family that found her as well as the orphanage she lived in before her adoption. The trip doesn’t turn out exactly as she expected, but in the end, she was able to grow through the experience and satisfy one of her most deep existential needs.

Despite its brevity, Hope’s Home tells a whole story with a beginning, middle, and end that gives a satisfactory and moving conclusion to Hope’s arc. At the same time, there’s a sense of incompleteness – or lack of closure – in Hope’s story that results from what the filmmakers choose to focus on, and what they choose to ignore. For instance, the entire weight of Hope’s identity crisis is thrown on her connection to China, a country that she hardly remembers, and culture that she hardly identifies with. Any possible dissatisfaction with her life in Ohio is conveniently tossed under the rug. The documentary casually mentions the subtle racism that Hope faces in her school – she can’t fit in with white or Chinese kids in her school – yet this fact is treated as an inevitability, when it should not be. When hope finally gets to Beijing, she feels as though she’s “on a different planet.” While the film promptly acknowledges her discomfort with her Chinese “family”, it still somewhat overstates her connection with her native land without necessarily making a proper case for it. It’s a minor point that doesn’t diminish Hope’s emotional journey in the film, but it does stand out as an obvious bias.

Hope’s Home is streaming as part of SF IndieFest from February 4-21.