BWW Review: TO THE MOON AND BACK Exposes A Cruel and Senseless Travesty of Justice
Children all too frequently become defenseless pawns in the political games that adults play. Perhaps, one of the most egregious displays of their abuse is the Putin government's hammerlock on American adoptions of Russian orphans.
TO THE MOON AND BACK is documentarian Susan Morgan Cooper's chilling exposé of the travesty that has placed 259 children and their prospective parents in excruciating limbo. The story is as unnerving and convoluted as a byzantine plot. The result is a powerful cry for justice.
Cooper masterfully unravels the tangled web of events that triggered the ban: revelations in the late '90's by businessman William Browder, one of the largest investors in the Russian economy, of corruption among the oligarchs; the brutal detention, abuse, and death of his attorney, Sergei Magnitsky; the U.S Senate's enactment in December 2012 of visa sanctions against Russians responsible for the attorney's death; and the Russian duma's immediate retaliatory legislation, the Dima Yakovlev Law, that included the prohibition against American families adopting Russian children.
Cooper does not limit her probing eye to the politics of the ban. She travels two other roads to reveal the dimensions of an epic human tragedy.
One road leads to the plight of special needs children warehoused and corralled in understaffed and substandard barracks-like conditions. The footage is a disturbing reminder of the Soviet ethos that humans were of limited value if they could not be productive and efficient contributors to the State. It is a primitive perspective on human life and individuals with disabilities that apparently persists in Russia's orphanages.
The other road leads to the home of Miles and Carol Harrison, Dima Yakovlev's adoptive parents ~ Dima (renamed Chase), who, in a twist of sinister irony, was the namesake of the ban. There are no more gut-wrenching moments in the film than those focusing on Miles' account of the 90 degree day that he inadvertently left his son strapped in a car seat and the child died of heat stroke. (Harrison was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was later acquitted.) While the film includes other sobering parental accounts of anguish and unfulfilled expectations, Harrison's is the most harrowing. It might seem that Miles's story receives undue emphasis, but his son's death after all provided the grounds for Russian allegations that American parents were unfit!
TO THE MOON AND BACK is a cinematic act of love and courage, and Cooper merits honorable mention for delving into the heart of darkness to shed light on injustice and to plead for compassion.
The documentary is one of the feature films of the 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival. Photo credit to TO THE MOON AND BACK.