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Actress Samantha Futerman’s roles in TV and feature films, including Man Up and 21 and Over, helped launch her Hollywood career, but it was her appearance in a viral YouTube video that irrevocably changed her life. In her feature directing debut, Futerman makes a momentous discovery that she adeptly shapes into an affecting emotional journey as well as a telling example of how the fortuitous intervention of social media continues to reshape lives in unexpected ways. Winner of a 2015 SXSW special jury award, Twinsters should manage to charm a broad audience in theatrical release before extending its reach worldwide in digital formats.
Futerman’s story begins naturally enough with her adoption from South Korea by a Caucasian couple and growing up in New Jersey with her parents’ two sons. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, she met up with YouTube comedy sensation Kevin Wu, aka KevJumba, appearing in an episode of his wildly popular video series.
Surfing online videos half a world away in 2013, French university student Anais Bordier saw Futerman in KevJumba’s “High School Virgin” episode and noted not only their physical resemblance, but also the similarity in their vital stats: both born in Busan, South Korea on the same date and each put up for adoption by an unwed mother. Bordier contacted Futerman on Facebook and after a series of messages, intense Skype sessions and further comparison of life histories, they gradually reached the startling consensus that they were identical twin sisters separated soon after birth. With the help of a DNA test that confirmed their sisterly suspicions, they began making plans to meet for the first time.
Traveling to London where Bordier was a fashion student, Futerman was overwhelmed to discover how much the artistically inclined sisters had in common even after 25 years of separation. Following a celebratory reunion that included both families, Bordier visited Futerman in Los Angeles and the two began making plans to visit South Korea in an attempt to identify their birth mother, despite discouraging reports from their respective Korean adoption agencies regarding prospects for familial reconciliation.
Twinsters (a fusion of “twins” and “sisters”) began as Futerman started documenting her experience in YouTube selfie videos (as “samfuterman”) just as she was getting to know her sister. Fairly quickly she realized that her unusual relationship with Bordier deserved more in-depth treatment and although she wasn’t a filmmaker herself, she called on her friend and cinematographer Ryan Miyamoto for assistance.
The two launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their personal documentary project, which not only garnered essential contributions, but also resulted in an ongoing stream of supportive comments and social media interactions. Over the past 50 years, more than 200,000 South Korean children have been given up for adoption worldwide, with the vast majority finding families in the U.S., so there was no shortage of empathy for Futerman’s situation.
The response from the sisters’ families was similarly enthusiastic, but still not comparable to the women’s ecstatic reunion. Assisted by Miyamoto, who gradually assumed the role of co-director, Futerman was able to record the highlights of her first interactions with Bordier and their immediate bonding. “It’s crazy to unconditionally love someone you’ve never met,” Futerman says at one point and if there were any major disagreements between these adorkable siblings, they don’t appear in the film.
While technically a modest film overall, Futerman and Miyamoto’s skill level visibly develops onscreen, along with the twins’ deepening relationship as the film progresses. Brief animated sequences and social media-style text exchanges impressively integrated into the footage by editor Jeff Consiglio help enliven some of the film’s more prosaic moments.
Production company: Small Package Films
Directors: Samantha Futerman, Ryan Miyamoto
Producers: Steve Brown, Yamato Cibulka, Jeff Consiglio, Samantha Futerman, Kanoa Goo, Ryan Miyamoto, James J. Yi, Eileen DeNobile
Executive Producers: Michael Scott Allen, Lisa Arendarski, Robert Breech, Jason Morales, Jenna Ushkowitz, Jesse Yonover, Larissa Nordyke
Director of photography: Ryan Miyamoto
Music: Martin Molin, Mark DegliAntoni
Editor: Jeff Consiglio
No rating, 90 minutes
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