(Release Info London schedule; November 28th, 2018, Picturehouse Central, 18:30)
"Three Identical Strangers"
"Three Identical Strangers" tells the astonishing true story of three men who make the chance discovery, at the age of 19, that they're identical triplets, separated at birth and adopted to different parents. The trio’s joyous reunion in 1980 catapults them to fame but it also sets in motion a chain of events that unearths an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes far beyond their own lives; a secret that goes to very heart of all human behavior.
In 1980, through a series of coincidences, two complete strangers, Robert Shafran and Edward Galland, made the astonishing discovery that they're identical twins. They had been separated at birth, adopted and raised by different families. Even more incredibly, when their story ran in 'The New York Post', another 19 year-old, David Kellman, realized he was their triplet, adopted to yet another family. After an overwhelmingly joyful reunion, they became instant media sensation sensations, interviewed by Tom Brokaw, clubbing at 'Studio 54', even appearing in a movie with 'Madonna'. But the brother's discovery set in motion a chain of events that, decades later, unearthed an extraordinary and disturbing secret.
'Louise Wise Services', an adoption agency focusing on placing Jewish children with Jewish families, is founded in New York City. Dr Peter Neubauer arrives in New York and begins training at 'The New York Psychoanalytic Institute'. 1951 Neubauer is appointed 'Director Of The Child Development Center' in Manhattan, where he studies the emotional health and development of prepubescent children. He begins 'The Twin Study', working with 'Louise Wise Services'. The study design involves splitting up identical twins and triplets, placing them with different families in different home environments, and studying the children’s development. No one from the families is told about 'The Twin Study' or that the babies they're adopting have identical siblings. The Kellman, Shafran and Galland families each adopt a baby girl via 'Louise Wise Services'. The triplets are born at 'Hillside Hospital', Long Island, the psychiatric wing of 'Long Island Jewish Medical Center'. Before they adopt, the families are informed that the child in question is part of a routine child development study. According to the families, it's strongly implied that the child continuing in this study is a condition of the adoption. None of the families are told that their child has two brothers. The families name the boys Robert, Edward and David.
The triplets and their families are visited at home by researchers who test the boys and make videos and audio recordings. Robert enrols at 'Sullivan County Community College' in upstate New York. The first day of school people come up to him and call him Eddy. Eddy’s friend Michael Domnitz realizes Robert must be Eddy’s brother. The pair drives to Long Island and Robert and Eddy are reunited. Local and national papers run articles with pictures of the newly reunited twins. David is at 'Queen’s College' in New York. He sees the article, makes a call and the triplets are reunited shortly afterwards at David’s Aunt Hedy’s house. Records indicate that 'The Twin Study' officially ends, though Neubauer and his team continue to analyze and discuss the study data until the late 1980s. According to Lawrence Perlman, in 1980 Walter Cronkite’s TV show approaches Neubauer about a proposed TV report. Neubauer convinces Cronkite to drop the story, arguing that it would be psychologically damaging to the remaining twins to reveal their identities. Neubauer later fends off a more determined effort to report the story by 60 Minutes. The State of New York begins to require adoption agencies to keep identical siblings together.
The triplets open 'Triplets Roumanian Steakhouse' in lower Manhattan, a diner with over 200 seats and a singing wait staff. Journalist Lawrence Wright discovers an article in a Yale journal that references 'The Twin Study'. Wright contacts the triplets and their families. It's the first time that any of them have heard of the study or Neubauer’s name. In summer 1995 Eddy Galland commits suicide. Lawrence Wright publishes 'Twins And What They Tell Us About Who We're'. The book includes interviews with Robert and David and their parents as well as with Neubauer. In February 2003, 'Louise Wise Adoption Services' officially closes. Same month Peter Neubauer dies. All records related to 'The Twin Study' are placed with 'Yale University'. The records are restricted until 2066.
This is the most extraordinary stories ever come actoss. Robert and David, two of the three identical strangers, are engaging, natural storytellers, they've real charisma, but they're also guarded and not particularly trusting of anyone. When you see what’s happened to them over the course of their lives, it’s not surprising that they don’t trust people easily. One of the advantages of the project taking five years to get off the ground is that it enabled us to build a degree of trust with them. Lots of people have tried to tell their story before, and for a variety of reasons it’s never happened. When they first became famous in 1980, there was a lot of hype around them and people saying, we're going to make your story into a film and it never happened. They’d been promised a lot that never materialized, so while they're interested in doing the film, They're also quite cynical about it. The triplet's unique backstory threw up all kinds of interesting dilemmas for us.
For example, normally with this kind of film where people are delving into really difficult things from the past, you would put them in touch with a psychologist before filming starts to ensure that they're emotionally robust enough to deal with it. But at the same time we're also acutely aware that the brothers don’t have a very high opinion of psychologists because of what happened to them. Ultimately we did make the offer to them and they chose not to take it up, and after careful consideration we decided to press ahead without it. It's also the reality of the triplet's lives; they're manipulated and lied to over decades and decades. In the 80’s and 90’s they're conspiracy theories about the political and media connections that some of the people and organizations involved in the study may have had. A lot of powerful people who would like to have this story silenced. A lot of time has passed since the study started, many of those involved have passed away though some are still alive and very reticent to talk about it so there were fewer people actively trying to stop us than there might have been in the past.
This film is also abouy Psychology, particularly what happened in the 50s and 60s when interest in the subject first really boomed, and there were a lot of experiments that were ethically dubious by today’s standards. It's oversimplifying to say the people who conducted 'The Twin Study' were evil, although we can certainly understand the feeling. Why do good people with the best intentions sometimes bad things? These scientists were genuinely trying to further human knowledge by answering the nature-nurture question, and in the process lost perspective on the human cost. There was probably a significant element of ego and ambition involved as well, but that just makes it a more interesting story. The film doesn't want to demonize the scientists, but it's important, because the film tells it from the triplet's perspective and their families perspective, to acknowledge that what the study did was hugely damaging on a personal level. You can still see the damage today.
The film also emphasizes the importance of the historical context In 1950s and 60s this was not something that seemed to be wrong’. Lawrence Wright admits that from today’s perspective it was undoubtedly ethically wrong. It's something that still bothers him even though he was only involved for a relatively short period of time. It was known about in very small circles within the twin research community, where it was regarded as highly controversial and something of an embarrassment. In 1995, Wright was writing a New Yorker piece about separated twins, and after speaking to a number of leading twin researchers, he was pointed to this obscure paper by one of the people who worked on the study. It’s mentioned briefly in his New Yorker article, and then he did more research and included a chapter on it in his later book, 'Twins: And What They Tell Us About Who We're'.
There are elements to their story that play out like a psychological thriller, a Bourne-style film with questions of identity. It's really important to do justice to that story. And to do justice to the triplets story you really have to think, When were they discovering information? You want the audience to be in the same position that they're and to go through it with them. To align audiences with the triplet's point of view, you've to keep audiences in the dark just as they're. Not in terms of CNN Films or any of the other funders pulling the plug, but every time something would happen or we’d lose access to someone or something, we’d think, who’s pulling the strings here? Your genetics give you a tendency to move in certain directions and your environment can overcome that gravitational force.