Sunshine offers a refreshingly rare glimpse on the current day transformations taking place within the American family. Filmmaker Karen Skloss explores her own unplanned pregnancy and decision to keep the child as a single mother. Twenty-three years prior, Skloss’ biological mother faces a similar dilemma, choosing to give birth secretly in a Catholic home for unwed mothers through a closed adoption.
 
Woven together from more than 10 years’ worth of intimate family interviews and stylized essay-like moments, Sunshine is a compelling and uniquely crafted portrait of an adopted woman driven to search for her pride and identity while connecting with her biological mother.

“Sunshine” insightfully explores unwritten chapters in women’s history. A must see contribution to the conversation on women and family.”

Ellen Spiro – professor and film director, Body of War
Synopsis: 

When filmmaker Karen Skloss got pregnant at the age of 23, she decided to have and keep the baby — even when it became clear that her relationship with the baby’s father wouldn’t work out. She had no idea that it would be so easy to alter her life in one stroke.

In SUNSHINE, Skloss explores the meaning of family through a personal journey to understand both the legacy of her own birth and the non-traditional family she created by co-parenting with her ex-boyfriend. Young, pregnant, single, and unprepared, Skloss struggles with the fact that sometimes, the most strenuous efforts to protect the idea of family can actually do the most to pull families apart.

Skloss’s pregnancy was, in a way, a case of history repeating itself. As a pregnant teenager, Skloss’s biological mother, the mayor’s daughter in a small Texas town, hushed herself away in a Catholic home for unwed mothers before giving Skloss up for adoption in 1975. She went on to lead a relatively normal life — finishing college, getting married, and having several other children. Few people, other than her new husband, had any idea what had happened. But that was more than Skloss knew for many, many years.

As she reconnects with her biological mother in SUNSHINE, Skloss also contemplates her relationship with her own daughter, Jasmine. “Though the meaning of family today is stretched ever farther, there is still plenty of struggle and at times, a nagging shame in being a single parent,” Skloss says. “A large part of my difficulty lay in the realization that I’d become one of ‘those’ people, who will never have a ‘normal’ family. My birthmother says she feared the shame that situation would have created for me.”

Woven together from more than 10 years’ worth of home movies, intimate family interviews, shimmering dance sequences, and stylized reenactments, SUNSHINE is a refreshing and compelling self-portrait of an adopted woman driven to search for her pride and identity while reconnecting with her biological mother.

Reviews

“Sunshine” eloquently portrays just how much our attitudes toward motherhood and family dynamics have changed over the past several decades.”

Beverly Jenkins-Crockett, Feminist Review

“I was fascinated in a way I have not been before by the use of film to tell a personal, human-sized story. I was moved to tears.”

Molly Remer, Social Worker MSW, CCCE

"Sunshine" provides an important revelation of the histories, reticences, and worries, as well as glories and triumphs, of changing perspectives on single-parenting."

Janet Staiger, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Texas at Austin

“I love the discussion Sunshine brings to the table.”

512 Kidz

"An Expanded definition of family."
 

Sarah Jean Billeiter, The Austin Chronicle

The Changing Face of Families: from "Unwed Mother" to "Single Mom"

Annie Fischer, Adoption Today


Karen Skloss' beautifully quirky new documentary, Sunshine, (shows that)...despite social changes, there's still a stigma; even Karen, whose biological mom and adoptive sister both became pregnant outside of marriage, admits "until it happened to me, I'd always looked down on women in my position." In a home movie of Karen's daughter's birth, Karen's dad jokes lightly about holding "grandchild number two from our two restless..." he pauses, searching for the right word and Karen (off camera) offers, "Wayward daughters?" "Two wayward daughters, yeah" he agrees. The tone is light, but there's an edge to it, an awareness of the heavier history behind them.

Caroline M. Grant, Literary Mama

The contrast between the mothers' choices and experiences is engaging, but (for me) the incredible social change regarding unwed/single motherhood in just one generation is astounding.

Baby Toolkit
Director's Commentary: 

Director/producer Karen Skloss talks about her family members’ reactions to the film, Kleenex as a required viewing accessory, and taking the filmmaker’s leap of faith “to go for it all on camera.”

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope this film will have?

Karen Skloss: Ultimately, I hope this film helps people appreciate their own unusual families by lessening the isolation and stigma associated with adoption and single parenthood. Love and commitment are what really makes family, not the superficial stuff.

IL: What led you to make this film?

KS: As a single mother, I’d wanted to understand (and hopefully overcome) my own feelings of inferiority. I thought that if I explored issues surrounding single parenthood, I might be able to take more pride in my own little family.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making SUNSHINE?

KS: Initially, I hadn’t set out to tell my own story. The plan was to explore themes surrounding single parenthood through other people’s stories. However, as things developed, it became clear that the story I had to tell was actually my own — and that was truly a terrifying proposition.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

KS: Most of the subjects in the film are in my immediate family. Still, asking them to put themselves out there with such personal subject matter was scary. I tried my best to explain what I hoped to accomplish with the film, but sometimes you never really know until you get to the finish line. Some of the topics in my film cut very close to the bone, so it was kind of a leap of faith to go for it all on camera. At the end of the day we just closed our eyes and jumped.

IL: What would you have liked to include that didn’t make the cut?

KS: My co-parent, Jeremy, was raised in large part by his single, gay father. I think this experience gave him a unique model when it came time to set up our own parenting arrangement. However, including his dad as a character was too tangential to the central story.

IL: Tell us about a scene that especially moved or resonated with you.

KS: There are a number of times when my biological mother tells me things about my own past for the first time, including what she had named me before she said goodbye. I learned so much about myself in the process of making this film. It hasn’t all been easy, but I would not trade it for anything. Also, there is some very precious footage of my daughter being born with both my adoptive and biological mothers there to witness it. I cried over and over again while editing those scenes.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

KS: I’ve been told that Kleenex is a required accessory. Every time I’ve shown the film for audiences in the adoption triad, I’ve cried too. These are deep issues and it means a lot to be able to connect with other people over them. Luckily, there is a lot of humor in the film too.

My adoptive parents are crazy about the film. My daughter also loves the movie. I’ve been making it her entire life, so she doesn’t know things any other way. Her father likes the movie, but is generally a shy person, so I think he’s participated in the project based on principle. My biological mother and her family have had a little more trouble processing the film. There are some delicate issues at play, but it means so much to me that they believed in the project enough to take the leap and share their part of the story.

IL: Why did you choose to present SUNSHINE on public television?

KS: I feel it is the best venue for a story like this.

IL: What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

KS: Just about everything else played second fiddle, except being a mom of course! The movie took over my life, as they often do.