Like thousands of Korean orphans since the 1950s, Kayla Tange was adopted by an American family and brought to the United States as an infant in 1983. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she works as an exotic dancer and as a performance artist. In 2011, Kayla made arrangements through a social worker to meet her birthmother. After traveling to Korea, she was devastated to learn that her birthmother had changed her mind and refused to meet with her. Kayla returned to the US with even more questions and an even heavier heart than before. Kayla hopes this visual letter filmed over the course of a year will help bring her some sort of peace if not the chance to finally meet the mother she’s never known.
I met Kayla through my friend and frequent collaborator Luka Fisher. Even in that first meeting, it became clear that she had a story she wanted to share. She had seen a previous short documentary I directed called “The Cardboard Artist”, and she told me how it touched her. Luka suggested that we all discuss making a film about her and her story as a dancer and as a performer. That was the seed for “Dear Mother”.
We shot “Dear Mother” whenever we could for over a year. We ended up with some beautiful images and scenes that I then intercut with Kayla’s old home movies paired with her letter. The two visuals combat each other in a way, and I think it’s nice way to depict Kayla’s competing identities: one as an adoptee with a complex family history and one as a performer and artist pioneering a new way of making art and interacting with audiences. Because I’m a twin, I think duality is something I’m always drawn to in my work.
This film is important to me because I think Kayla’s story is extremely specific but also universal. There have been so many adoptees brought to the US, especially from South Korea, that want to reach out to their birthparents. And just like any other adoptee, there are barriers. However, the cultural, language, and sheer geographic distance between Kayla and her birthmother is so vast, it really makes you pause and think about your own closeness, in both a literal and a more metaphysical way, with your own mother. We all come from within another human being. It’s undeniable. And knowing that relationship could exist but for whatever reason doesn’t is heartbreaking to me.
I’m drawn to stories about people on the fringes and forcing audiences inside the head of a single person. I believe “Dear Mother” does that. We all have a reflective aspect to our identities. We all look back. We watch old home videos. Scroll through old social media posts. Never delete text messages from certain people. People look back. But I also admire how Kayla uses the process of this film to look ahead. For her, she’s always moving forward, in her art, her life, her own identity. And I hope this film provides a sense of closure to a painful chapter in her life that only enables her to go further.
About Matthew Kaundart
Born and raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Matthew Kaundart is an LA-based filmmaker working in both narrative and documentary, as well as a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His films often feature an experimental spirit and have screened worldwide, including at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, the American Documentary Film Festival, Outfest, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater. His work has also been featured in publications such as VICE, PAPER, Somesuch, LA Weekly, and more. He’s currently developing a feature screenplay, a version of which was a Sundance Screenwriters Lab Finalist. www.matthewkaundart.com