Director: Jonathan Karsh

Topic: Unusual California family headed by Susan Tom, who has adopted 11 special-needs children.

Financier: Filmmakers embarked on the project with no financing in place after accepting an offer to join the family on a road trip with two days’ notice.

Budget: $5,000 in grant money was eventually raised, getting the film to the point where HBO picked it up.

Shooting format: Sony DSR 500, a high-end DV cam, plus some Super 8 and home movie footage.

Why it made the list: Ease and fluency with which it penetrates its subject; accessibility it brings to a very unique family; tough, affecting scenes.

Memorable scenes: Cinematic opening sequence in a swimming pool, conveying children’s joy as they frolic in the water, only to reveal, beneath the water’s surface, missing limbs and other disabilities. In another scene, Xenia, who has no legs, arrives home from school with a cute boy from her class, to encounter vigorous teasing from her siblings about her “boyfriend.” In another, tough kid Joe sobs when his biological mother tells him she is moving away.

Distribution/broadcast status: Strand Releasing plans a theatrical release on Mother’s Day 2004; HBO has it for cable.

Exposure to date: Festivals, including Sundance 2003, where it won Audience Award and Director Award for docu.

On making the film: Karsh, a longtime producer for San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, encountered the Tom family when he did a piece on them for his day job. “I became insatiably curious about this family, and I had always wanted to do a documentary.” With no kids of his own, he doubted he was right for the subject. After Susan Tom invited him to join the family in an RV on a recreational trip across the U.S., he made up his mind, asking producer Jennifer Chaiken (“Naked States,” “Family Name”) to join in. “We logged thousands of miles and hours with these kids, and barely any of that footage made it into the movie. But it created a bond,” he says. When the film premiered at Sundance, Tom took her first vacation from the children in four years to be there. “She got a standing ovation after every screening, and people on the street treated her like a celebrity,” says Karsh. “It felt great to be able to give her that.”

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