2001 — student winner
Tom Mason is a freelance Director of Phography, Editor, and Producer based in New York City. He has worked on a long form documentary projects including "The Good Mother," a 2009 feature-length for Arté France, "Hard As Nails" for HBO, and "One Last Shot," a project about Angola Prison's hospice program currently in production. He recently completed work on a large-scale, site-specific documentary video installation for the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, open in November 2010. He has been a guest lecturer at Syracuse University and The New School in addition to his role as adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The outlook for orphaned children in developing countries rarely looks promising. The prospect of being adopted by a family is often the only hope for survival. Yet driven by a demand for healthy, white, American infants, American adoption agencies often overlook these, the most desperate of children. For the last 24 years, Maine Adoption Placement Service (MAPS) has been placing children from the harshest of global circumstances into homes in the state of Maine. This photographic documentary story will follow one of the MAPS adoption processes from start to finish; beginning in the orphanage and culminating with the child's transition into life in the state of Maine.
The children that MAPS places defy the old notion of the "desirable" child in nearly every way. Aside from their (non-American) geographic origins, many of these children have special needs, or have aged well past infancy. Yet the agency continues to be successful in finding parents for these children, and has expanded its international scope to include offices in Russia, Khazakstan, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Vietnam, among others.
Because of its proximity to Europe (featuring inexpensive, readily available transportation to the States) the programs in Russia and the former Soviet republics are the most viable for this proposal. The agency has agreed to assist me by offering contacts in international orphanages, and access to the private life of a consenting family who would be receiving the child I choose to follow.
In doing this story, I hope to force Americans into a different global perspective. To a Russian child, the difference between is life in an impoverished orphanage and a life with a middle-class family in Maine is comparable to any of us stepping into a time machine which drops us thirty years into the future. Video games, computers, and the abundance of food and clothing will be entirely new to this child. By telling the story of its transition into a new life, cultural differences will be illuminated, helping to promote cultural understanding.
This is the age-old story of Alexia de Tocqueville; a foreign observer coming to America and viewing the country as only a foreigner could; for all that it is, both wonderful and backwards. But beyond that, this story is unique in that it will be told through the eyes of a child, revealing experiences from which adults have long since been removed.
At its core, this story is turning a mirror on America. It is a departure from the American-centered viewpoint which prevails in most media, allowing Americans to remain entrenched in their own perspective. Showing the trials and tribulations of a young foreign protagonist will allow us to view ourselves and our place in the world with new perspective.