Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. To the Moon and Back by Susan Morgan Cooper is a heartbreaking look at two intersecting narratives about the Russian Adoption Ban leaving approximately 259 children, 75% disabled, stuck in limbo in their adoption process to American parents. The reason? Politics.
It’s a “chess game between Obama and Putin,” Cooper explained. Cooper hopes that her film can help make changes in the lives of these children and in Miles and Carol Harrington’s lives, the blame upon which Putin placed this ban.
Cooper didn’t start out directing impactful and life-changing documentaries. She began as an actress and had a small role in a Clint Eastwood film. However, she says, “I just never had the passion for acting and one day someone took me into an editing room and all of a sudden, the lights turned on! You can manipulate an actor’s performance with timing and a reaction shot. So I started being involved in editing.”
It was an interaction with a young Croatian girl during the time of the Balkan wars that catapulted Cooper into documentary filmmaking. After seeing this frail girl on a path to self-destruction, she knew she needed to make a film about her. “I didn’t know anything about cameras or sound...but somehow making that film changed her life...I’m proud to say it saved her life. And I realized at that point what the power of a documentary was. I was hooked!”
Cooper’s style of filmmaking doesn’t always follow a set protocol, though. She laughed as she said, “I frustrate film professors when I go visiting to show my films because I always tell my students that I never make solid plans when making a documentary. Things happen to take you off the main road and it’s those detours that usually end up being the most exciting part of your films.”
Taking a road less traveled most certainly is exhibited in To the Moon and Back. The emotions ran high while discussing it with Cooper and her main character, Miles Harrington. They recounted the death of a young boy, the hundreds of children awaiting adoption, and the parents who are still fighting to give them homes here in the United States as well as a lawyer’s brutal murder in Russia. To the Moon and Back has made an impact on all who watch and it is now in the hands of politicians to move forward. Even with Congressmen hosting and attending screenings of this film on Capitol Hill, she explained, “...no matter how many Congressmen...get on board, no matter how many signatures they get, nothing seems to happen. And you asked me about politics? I used to dream that government was ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ and unfortunately, I’ve lost faith in that.”
Cooper’s journey, traveling to Russia, investigating situations that painted Putin in a negative light most definitely created fear, yet she forged ahead. Cooper, her Director of Photography and her still photographer---her daughter-- -were all women, traveling “under the radar” and she was most certainly scared. “I was totally scared from the very beginning...I was terrified to exposing these two girls to what? Threat of imprisonment because what I was saying was against President Putin. I had heard stories of people being poisoned and dying...with no explanation.” She continued, “It was an awesome responsibility.”
Cooper will continue to present her film at festivals and help to fight to lift the Russian Adoption Ban. Her unique and caring filmmaking is not only inspirational, it is truly life-saving.
To listen to the interview in its entirety, go to www.reelhonestreviews.com
© Pamela Powell (6/10/17) FF2 Media
Photo: Miles Harrington and Susan Morgan Cooper
Photo Credits: Dominion3 Public Relations