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When Cathy & Martin Ward decided that they wanted to adopt a child, they had no idea that they’d end up with five instead. Dealing with an adoption agency in the Ukraine, they initially agreed to a summer-long visit from siblings Alyona and Snezhana, but once they found out that the sisters were two of five siblings living in an orphanage (a sixth sister had already been adopted locally), they started the process to bring all of them to their home in Surrey, BC. This included a lot of financial sacrifice for the one income family, with Martin eventually having to take a higher paying job in the Arctic that kept him away from home for weeks at a time, leaving Cathy to single-handedly deal with the kids who ranged in age from six to  seventeen. The kids, all products of an abusive home situation, each came with their own set of issues that needed to be dealt with in order to help smooth their way to a thriving existence in Canadian society. The eldest girl, Yuliya, who was once beaten so badly by her step-dad that she ended up in the hospital, has an especially difficult time connecting with her new parents and with being replaced as the other children’s surrogate Mother. Despite all of this, the Wards persevere, putting everything on the line to ensure that these kids have a safe and happy environment in which to grow up.

Director Julia Ivanova does an excellent job in documenting the very long and complicated journey of the Ward family to the point that the camera actually begins to feel like another member of the clan. She not only documents the truths behind the actual adoption process, but also the very real feelings that arise when strangers are trying to bond with one another and form a strong family unit. Especially fascinating is the journey of the two older children who, by time the adoption is complete, are in their early twenties and struggling to regain some of their own lost childhood while still figuring out how to become an adult in a new country so different from their own. The constant push and pull and well as both the happy and horribly tense moments will be recognizable to everyone who’s ever lived within a family dynamic and it makes for a really intriguing viewing experience.

Is High Five: A Suburban Adoption Saga Essential Hot Docs Viewing?

It’s really great and should be high on your list but it’s not essential – especially if you get enough of your own crazy family at home.

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