I Think You’ve Been Looking for Me
(Canada, 44 min.)
Dir. Kacim Steets
Family is an endless source of inspiration for documentary filmmakers. While these wild-but-true yarns can often be too personal for their own good, they can, if revealed carefully, tap into part of the collective consciousness and extend the story beyond one family circle. I Think You’ve Been Looking for Me, directed by Kacim Steets and produced by Frederic Bohbot (whose short The Lady in Number 6 won an Oscar), unravels a revelation within the director’s family that raises multiple questions about the bonds between parents and their children. It’s a good story well told about heartache, healing, and identity.
The story begins, as these docs often do, with a family secret. Steets’ mother, Dorothy, now in her 70s, Dorothy feels compelled to unburden herself with a secret that initially prevented her from getting close to her three children: they have an older half-brother.
Kacim is the youngest of Dorothy’s three children and the only one still living in the family’s home base of Montreal. (His siblings, Tarik and Lila, both live abroad when the film begins.) He realizes that there are the makings of a good movie and puts his mother’s quest for closure on camera. The family tracks down the name Dorothy gave her long-lost son before he was taken for adoption and they follow the few clues they have. Facebook creeping and Google searching abounds. Dorothy’s son becomes an absence that unites the family as her offspring all recognize the wound that needs to heal for the family to be whole.
Just when the cyber-stalking seems to have bottomed out, however, Lila receives an unexpected message. It reads, “I think you’ve been looking for me.” It’s from Joe Foley, a man in North Carolina. He’s been searching for Dorothy for the past 20 years.
The great surprise of I Think You’ve Been Looking for Me reveals itself at the very beginning of the film so the will-they-or-won’t-they suspense isn’t as strong as it could be. By using this moment as a narrative frame, rather than as a climax for dramatic payoff, Steets focuses on the catharsis and quest for identity that linger long after Dorothy and Joe finally embrace. There are hugs and tears as the family unites both in person and online with the parents and siblings discovering one another and forging an instant connection. Told with a mix of interviews, verité-style footage, home movies, and dramatic B-roll, Steets creates a thoughtful collage about the power of family and the bonds between parents and their children that endure over time.
There are no horror stories in I Think You’ve Been Looking for Me that one might see in similarly themed dramas like Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters, but rather tales of repressive social norms and cruel bureaucracy. Dorothy’s story resonates strongly as she situates the circumstances of her pregnancy within the pain it caused her. The centrepiece of the documentary is an intimate and emotional interview in which Dorothy puts everything into the open while revealing her story. She tells Kacim that, as a young woman growing up in a Catholic middle class New Jersey family, she became pregnant and was quietly ushered into a home for unwed mothers where she delivered her child in secret with the baby going into adoption shortly thereafter.
She reveals that the pregnancy arose through an act that would now be considered date rape, and Dorothy’s interview sees her put a name to the sexual assault that was normalized at the time. The film blends layers of pain and trauma as Dorothy and Joe both wrestle with the implications of what it means to be a child brought into the world through an act of violence, yet inspire deep feelings of love and responsibility, only to then be severed from the mother in another form of violation.
Steets’ doc lands itself within the greater conversation about sexual assault and violence as Dorothy encounters other women who became pregnant and had to give up their babies in similar circumstances. (It literally has a “me too” moment.) Dorothy’s bravery, and that of her family, helps bring these stories out into the open and force wider conversations about both adoption and assault. The doc reveals how, at some level, many families have a personal tale that extends beyond the family circle and connects them with different individuals or families around the globe.
I Think You’ve Been Looking For Me premieres on CBC DOCS POV on Friday, November 23 at 9 p.m. ET and streams online from 12 noon the same day.