B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
Susan Tom, adoptive mother of eleven children with special needs, is about to have the most tumultuous year of her life. Although a daughter without legs dates the most popular boy in school, and a child with severe burns is the top student in her class, one of Susan's children plans to destroy this happy family. Fifteen-year-old Joe battles both Cystic Fibrosis and Bipolar Disorder. After a devastating reunion with his biological parents, Joe turns his rage against his "freaky" siblings, threatening to kill one of them.
  My Flesh And Blood
   
 

"I'm giving you one year."

That strictly imposed deadline for making My Flesh and Blood was the golden rule Susan Tom established with me when I first asked about documenting her extraordinary family. "But you'd better hurry. I'm packing eleven kids into an RV and heading across the country." Two days later, the RV hit the road, followed closely by a minivan carrying a nervous but hopeful camera crew. I had no idea where that road was going, only that we were following an incredibly rare and inspiring American family—a mother and her adopted children of various physical and emotional disabilities.

One year later I am leaving the Tom house after a birthday celebration, saying goodbye to Susan and her children, who have become like my own little brothers and sisters. I walk away knowing I will never shake the memories of the past year—the painful, wonderful, beautiful and heartbreaking moments I witnessed in the life of Susan Tom and her children.

Having set out originally to make a film about a summer road trip I soon realized that the real story existed almost entirely inside the seven bedroom home in Fairfield, California where the Tom family lives. In Joe's room, you find an emotionally distraught fifteen-year-old boy with Cystic Fibrosis who longs to be with his birth mother. Next door, two fashion-conscious teenagers born without legs are picking out shoes…for their hands. Across the hall, eighteen-year-old Margaret is pacing back and forth, tired of her role as second-in-command in the Tom household and ready to do something about it. And Susan Tom is taking a much needed break from her twenty-four hour a day job as Mom to all these kids to search online personal ads for a potential date.

The year of documenting the Tom family was a year Susan saw her son Joe receive devastating news from his birth mother, only to turn his anger against his siblings. As his rage escalated, I was working with my editor on road trip sequences to be used in the finished film. Ultimately, we decided to throw away nearly all of that footage and focus the film on this difficult and tragic year. I spent many hours on the phone with Susan after a long day of shooting to talk about Joe's physical and emotional problems, and Susan simply did not know what to do. What eventually happened to Joe took us all by surprise.

Yet despite the abuse the other kids endured from Joe that year, two of them managed to live a "normal" teenage life. Xenia, the popular and boy crazy teenager (who just happens to not have legs) brought a boy home from school which was very fun for all of us on the film crew—we knew how boy-crazy she was and rooted for him to fall for her. Anthony, ravaged by a degenerative skin disease, was living far longer than expected and preparing for his twentieth birthday. We had all bonded to his sweetness and sense of humor and looked forward to celebrating such a milestone in his young life.

My Flesh and Blood is the first documentary I directed, and I must admit I feel pretty spoiled for the rest of my career. Where else will I find such a dynamic group of people? When else will I connect with my subjects so personally? The Toms are an unbelievably rare and special find.

   

©2004 Landmark Theatres