High Five documents the challenges of international adoption

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When B.C. couple Cathy and Martin Ward decided to adopt a child, they didn’t expect they would eventually end up with five.

The documentary High Five tells the story of how the husband and wife became parents to five siblings who had been living in an orphanage in rural Ukraine.

The process, as the film details, was not without its many challenges. Watching the couple react to being forced to leave three of the children in the orphanage while they navigate the lengthy adoption process is heartwrenching.

Even once the Wards begin to settle their family in their suburban home in Surrey, the process is full of plenty of hurdles, from the financial impacts of going from no children to five, to tensions that arise between the siblings as they try to adapt to the new setting.

The documentary illustrates those challenges in powerful detail, from emotional accounts of the children’s traumatic experiences in the Ukraine, to tense moments like the two youngest sisters excluding Yulia—their older teen sister and former mother figure—for not knowing how to play with dolls.

These moments are at times tough to watch, as director Julia Ivanova is sometimes heard asking probing questions that the subjects struggle or decline to answer. The camera often lingers on the faces of the family members, allowing their expressions to tell more than they will admit in interviews.

Ivanova collected years of footage from both the Ukraine and Canada as filmmakers shadowed the family. The well-edited version of that story allows the viewer to watch key portions of the siblings’ saga as they grow from young, vulnerable orphans to Canadian residents who come to see their suburban home as the norm.

But while their new setting offers the children a loving upbringing, the divide that begins to grow between Yulia and some members of the family as they adapt to their new roles is truly sad to observe.

Ivanova succeeds in weaving this mix of uplifting and difficult moments into a powerful and memorable account of a family’s challenging experience with international adoption.

High Five: A Suburban Adoption Saga screens on the Knowledge Network this evening (December 4) at 9 p.m. and on Wednesday (December 5) at 12 a.m.

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