You Have His Eyes is a gripping documentary from filmmaker Christopher Wilson. In the film, Chris, a transracial adoptee, documents his search for his father. Chris has already found and met his birth mother, but he is curious about his father’s identity and whereabouts. When he begins his search, all Chris has is a grainy passport picture of his father, a few stories from his birth mother, and a determination to find the man who shares his features.
The documentary begins in South Florida and ends in Jamaica, but it is the stops in between that reveal the complexity Chris’ family – something many of us can relate to. As Chris continues to search, he begins to unveil family secrets that bring him one step closer to his father. The footage is raw, and there are several scenes that will give you goosebumps. In the end, Chris finds answers to some of his questions, but he also understands that his identity is not based on the actions or choices of someone else.
Watch the trailer below and then read on for our interview!
What was the motivation for making a documentary? Did you have any filmmaking experience before you started this project?
My motivation for everything stems from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Right before this project came to fruition, I was saved. God freed me up to pursue my dreams and find myself. So after I accepted him into my life, I decided to begin to chase my dreams, and one of them was to be a filmmaker. I love film but had very little experience behind the camera myself. I just felt I had an eye for it and enough passion to see a project through. We were searching for stories, going back in forth with an investor on the best possible story to document. Everyone we encountered kept saying, “You know there might be something with your own story, and the issue of adoption in general”. So then we thought, “What would be the angle? What are you most interested in telling or finding out about yourself?” “Well, I would love to know about my father,” I thought…so we said, “Let’s make a film that documents the search for him”.
We began with retracing our steps and turning the cameras on my family, myself, and my birth mother, whom I had just recently met and started a relationship with. As soon as we turned the cameras on my family…BOOM! All these very revealing stories started to boil to the surface. All of sudden I realized I was literally pursuing my dream, a film career, and finding myself and my roots all in one project! God has a way of working everything out perfectly and sometimes all at once. Something He never let me lose sight of throughout this process. We realized right away we had a film about adoption, yes, a film about a search, yes..but in truth we had film about family. Which pleased me greatly. Because everyone can relate to a story about family.
From start to finish, how long did it take to complete the documentary?
The film took 2.5 years from planning, to the start, to its finish. Most of that time was spent searching. The rest was spent comprising and editing the footage. This film was not documented in a typical way, we didn’t want to go in with a manufactured story or limit ourselves by filming only what we set out to capture, so we literally just shot everything and said we will deal with the footage at the end. So that was hard to narrow down a good cut of the film having shot so much footage. We wanted to give everyone a chance to tell their part of the story. I pray we were successful.
When you met your birth mother, she said that she would not recommend adoption. How do you feel about adoption?
My birthmother was speaking from the heart when she made that comment. She wasn’t saying that adoption was a bad thing, she was saying that adoption is a hard thing to go through. Gut wrenching. We need that kind of honesty when talking about adoption. Sometimes people are afraid of saying something bad, even when you are truly in favor of the process. She was also speaking to the fact that her own personal experience was not ideal, having been promised by the adoption agency that she was going to be able to remain in some sort of communication with me and my family. Then the agency was shut down for selling children illegally and all communication from that point abruptly stopped. After she made that comment she prefaced with saying it was for those reasons mostly she could not recommend it to anyone, while at the same time saying it was the BEST decision given to her at the time. Adoption like everything in life is not cut and dry, often times it is nuanced and falls into that gray area. She is fully thankful to my family. My adoption gave two people the chance at a productive life, whereas together our outlook did not seem as promising.
On your journey to find your father, you learned of family you never knew existed. You also learned of your mother’s sexual abuse by her father (your biological grandfather), as well as physical and mental disorders in your family. Do you ever regret finding out this information, or in other words, is ignorance sometimes bliss?
What happened to my biological parents allowed me to see them as strong individuals who persevered. It made me reflect and be truly grateful for my own life. As for myself…I was never concerned about what I found out…because I had God. My faith. I live under the understanding that my life has been laid out for me, and He has walked my steps. So whatever comes my way was intended. However, I am fully aware that most people do not see life through this prism. Especially some of the immediate family and friends around me. So I could feel them becoming very concerned for me as I dug deeper into the dormant truths within my family.
I love my biological Grandfather despite his shortcomings. I cannot judge anyone. I try not to. I just want to offer my love to everyone because that was all I received as a child, unconditional love. Mental disorders can often times be spurred by circumstances, and my life has been nothing but blissful. So I was never concerned for my own mental health either. What bothered me most is when I see or feel someone pity or feel worried on my behalf; it makes me feel for them. I don’t want them to be concerned over something I have no concern over myself.
Speaking of mental disorders, how did filming the documentary challenge your views of mental health?
The issue of mental health shows up in our film in a very dramatic and intense way. I never anticipated anything like this. I really can’t speak to this issue by medical terms. I do not see things in that way. In today’s very financially driven medical field, almost everyone can be categorized with a mental disorder. As we were investigating what happened to my biological father, very early on reports started to come in that he had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was given medication, was misdiagnosed by doctors, and this medication caused him to snap….and he abruptly disappeared.
I think we need to evaluate how we treat individuals who have a different outlook and perspective on life. We are all unique and sometimes when society tries to change that in a person, the results can be negative and often detrimental. It takes a very special person to dedicate themselves to a craft so intensely that they become the best in a nation, as my birth father did with his track career. I am proud of him and his accomplishments.
What is the best thing to come out of this experience? What advice do you have for any adoptee who is considering searching for their family?
The best part of the whole experience was living my dream of being a filmmaker and exercising my faith into action and connecting with my extended family. It’s hard to speak on behalf or for other adoptees because each story is so unique. So I am only speaking for myself in this moment. My advice? Seek God. Seek him first and all the other pieces will fall right into place. That is a true statement for anything. If you are searching for something from someone don’t search yet. No one owes anyone anything. I know that can seem like an insensitive statement. But it is a truth.
Everything you need can be found within yourself. Any answer you want can be given to you by God. All you have to do is listen to Him. I was blessed. I was very content with my family. I wasn’t looking for another. I remember friends being more interested in my biological parents then I was. But I did have the whispers of normal curiosity, “What do they look like?” “What career paths did they choose?” Things like that. All I ever needed was provided from my adoptive family: unconditional love. So it was easy to be content with my life.
What is the next step for you and the documentary? Where can people purchase or download the film?
Right after finishing the film we received our first two official selections. Our film had a big premiere June 28th in Boston as part of Roxbury International Film Festival. As we seek distribution for the documentary, we will be touring festivals and screening all over the United States and International Markets. We can’t wait to release the film worldwide. We feel this story, which is about adoption, which is about a search, but ultimately it is a story about family, which is a story everyone can relate to. For now you can follow us on our Facebook page and on our official film website for the latest updates and screening listings.
At the time of publication, You Have His Eyes has won the Audience Award at the Kingston New York Film Festival, the Best Director of a Documentary and Best Documentary Feature at the Chain New York City Film Festival, and Best of Festival at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival.
Christopher Wilson is a filmmaker, writer, actor, and model, and he is currently working on a short film with his production compony, CTW Productions. He is also the CEO of 7one, an organization devoted to empowering people to follow their dreams. Wilson currently resides in South Florida.