“Found,” a Netflix documentary by director Amanda Lipitz (“Step”), follows three adopted teenage girls as they search for information about their birth parents. The three girls, Chloe, Sadie and Lily, find each other after taking a DNA test that reveals them to be blood-related cousins, and they continue to look into their ancestry with the help of Liu, a China-based investigator who specializes in connecting people to their heritage.
The documentary addresses the harm caused by China’s One-Child policy, a 1979 family-planning policy intended to reduce the growth rate of the Chinese population. The policy penalized families that had more than one child with debilitating fines. Often, the fines required were more than a family’s annual income. However, this policy fueled waves of international adoption from China when second children were relinquished or forcibly taken away from their Chinese birth families.
Throughout the documentary, viewers are keenly aware that this story has not been written by a screenwriter. It is instead the true life story of three real people. The film will often sit back and let the events of the girls’ life play out. The documentarians make themselves inconspicuous; the audience watching “Found” feels like they are experiencing the year-long search for heritage along with the girls. The producers of “Found” only ask the girls questions a handful of times, often unobtrusive ones that do not seek to start drama but instead just help facilitate the audience’s understanding of Chloe, Sadie and Lily.
The editing in “Found” is incredibly captivating, seamlessly transitioning from a montage of the months-long genealogy investigation to deeply emotional scenes where the girls struggle over how to deal with their history. While the documentary only has a runtime of 90 minutes, the film cleverly includes both big and small moments, making it feel as if the audience is following the girls for every single step of the process. “Found” knows that sometimes all you need for a captivating story is a camera pointed at a person going through an important event, no embellishment is required.
The documentary takes pains to showcase how Asian Americans are not a monolith, an important message to convey after last year’s increase in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes. Chloe, Sadie and Lily all have similar early lives, being affected by the One-Child policy, but they have different views on their ancestry. Chloe decides early on in the documentary that she does not want to find out who her parents are, unlike the other girls. Just because the girls were all affected by the same government policy does not mean that they are destined to follow the same path. The documentary emphasizes that Chloe, Sadie and Lily should not be defined by this one event in their lives and that they are much more than their adoption story.
One of the most touching moments in “Found” was also the simplest. A man who was just told that Lily was not actually the daughter he gave up years before laments that there is nothing he can do about it and looks away from the camera. While he tries to hide his emotions, the sadness is clear. It doesn’t come from a big swell in music or dramatic camera shots but, rather, from him simply wandering away from the group as he tries to hide his emotions.
This is where “Found” excels most, in the incredibly human reactions to both sorrow and joy.
Daily Arts Contributor Zach Loveall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.