What makes ordinary people do extraordinary things? New film explores this subject

What makes ordinary people do extraordinary things? New film explores this subject

Elizabeth Curry, mother of 12 children, seen here with four of them, including Hayden (on the right), who was adopted from China.

Every wonder what prompts seeming ordinary people to do extraordinary things? That’s what Evanston director May Tchao's fascinating and beautiful documentary film "Hayden & Her Family" is all about.

But the film is not just about a family doing altruistic acts, says Tchao. She says the film explores what motivates people to go "all out" to help others as well as themes such as alternative parenting, family norms and the challenges of special needs adoption. 

Jud and Elizabeth Curry used to live in Evanston too, but a year ago they moved to the western suburbs. They have seven healthy biological children aged 7 to 24-years-old as well as five adopted special needs children from Vietnam and China.

"Hayden & Her Family" tells the Curry family's story. Hayden, their 13-year old daughter, adopted from China, has Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome that severely distorts one side of her face. Hayden is the thread that runs through the story.

Below is an interview with the film's director May Tchao.

How did you find this story and what attracted you to it?

Tchao: The Curry family were members of my church. I didn’t know them then until I saw this child with the distorted face sitting in front of the pews at children’s hour. I recall thinking to myself who is this self-possessed child? And who is her family that raised her to be this confident? The child turns out to be Hayden.

Hayden seen in church, when the director first met her.

Hayden, at church, the day Tchao first met her.

Then I got to know the family and realized there are all these children! My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to embark on this project to understand why and what motivates them to adopt these children. Originally, I intended the story to be about Hayden, but as I follow them through the years, the parents become more central.

How much time did you spend with the Curry family?

Tchao: I started the film four years ago in 2014. I try to shoot some footage at least once a month, especially in the summer, but there are times they don’t want to be bothered. I understand this is a special honor and privilege to be able to access them and understand their need for privacy.

The mom seems so special yet very ordinary--like the rest of us. What is it about the mom and dad that motivates them to want to take on adopting these special needs kids again and again?

Tchao: Yes, the parents, Elizabeth and Jud, have always insisted that they are just ordinary people who have felt the calling to adopt. Elizabeth has a mommy blog that reflects her feelings about their parenting and adoption challenges, insisting all along that they are just ordinary folks who “happened” to have adopted 5 special needs children. In fact, the parents are a little bit defensive when you compliment them on their altruistic deeds. 

What kind of work to the couple do?

Tchao: The dad is in academia and is an administrator for a small college. The mom is a stay-at-home mom, a renaissance woman of sorts who home-school her kids and make their dresses etc.

Are the parents very religious?

Tchao: The parents are devout Christians, but not the holier-than-thou types. They do feel God has a calling to adopt each of their adoptive children as shown in my film. 

Are the Currys going to adopt any more kids? 

Tchao: Don’t know, but Elizabeth is still actively advocating for special needs adoption from China.

About the director

May Tchao, director of "Hayden & Her Family."

May Tchao, director of "Hayden & Her Family."

After more than 35 years working as an art director in the ad business in Chicago, director May Tchao, transferred her skills from TV commercial production to documentary filmmaker.

Her first film, award-winning "Spilled Water," is about the shifting rights and status of women in modern China. The film has been featured in national and international film festivals and was broadcast on PBS stations WTTW in Chicago and KQED in San Francisco. 

Contribute to the  film's Kickstarter Campaign

Creating a  documentary film is a daunting and expensive project. Launched four years ago and financed mainly by Tchao, the shooting portion of "Hayden & Her Family" is 90% finished, but Tchao is asking for your aid to complete the film. 

You can help bring this compelling and important story to life by donating.

What else you can do to spread the message

You know what to do. To help get the word out, post this blog post and/or the link to the film's Kickstarter campaign on social media--Facebook page, Twitter, etc. as well as share them via email and text.

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