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Avery Klein-Cloud in OFF AND RUNNING (Photo: First Run Features)

Directed by
Nicole Opper
Produced by
Opper & Sharese Bullock
Released by First Run Features
USA. 76 min. Not Rated

For years, director Nicole Opper was close to the Klein-Cloud family, admiring the two white lesbian mothers for raising three adopted children—the oldest son, Raffi, of a mixed race background; African-American daughter Avery; and a much younger son from South Korea. As a middle school teacher, Opper helped Avery adjust to being the only African-American at their Jewish school in Brooklyn. She intimately filmed Avery from there through high school for her first feature-length documentary, subtitled “An American Coming-of-Age Story,” and the trust they share captures raw teenage emotions but teeters on crossing ethical boundaries.

After the opening montage of a happy Jewish rainbow family with two mommies, Avery grows more and more restless. Lighter-skinned Raffi is an academic star who goes to a top public high school and onto the Ivy League. When he leaves for college, Avery loses an anchor. In articulate and poignant video diaries, she grapples frankly with her African-American identity, which she perceives through popular culture clichés. She transfers to a school with mostly African Americans, works on her talk, walk, dress, and attitude to fit in with her assumptions, and her peers become more important to her than her family. Instead of academics, she focuses on sports and excels at running (hence the title), with the close support of a coach who is optimistic she will land on a good college track team.

But she needs something more—she decides to find her birth mother. The film suspensefully follows every step of her wrenching decision-making, including a heart-to-heart talk with her older brother, who has chosen not to go that route (and it would have been a useful comparison to hear more from him throughout the film). She reads aloud her letters to her birth mother, and the camera is her outlet for expressing what she feels when she movingly learns more about her. Then, almost incomprehensibly (her actions are not seen in straight chronological order), she starts repeating the choices her birth mother made in her youth and later regretted. She becomes more and more estranged from her adoptive mothers and eventually runs away. The audience at its Tribeca Film Festival premiere gasped in shock that the filmmaker—who apparently was the only adult closely involved in Avery’s life—continued to film her after she left home and yet never revealed her location to Avery’s frantic mothers.

With many adults bending over backwards to help Avery get back on track, awkward resolutions to the conflicts are spun into a confusing, positive conclusion about her future that wasn’t quite supported by the participants in the several question-and-answer sessions I observed. Just like in life, where “happy ever after” is very subjective in an America where race makes everything more complicated. Nora Lee Mandel
January 29, 2010



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