Students’ award-winning film presents moving story

The picture of a typical family is usually a mom, dad and children who resemble them.

In A Family Portrait, however, USC students Melissa Leu and Jeff Haig paint a much different picture.

Say cheese · A Family Portrait followed the life of John and Alen and won a Remi awad from the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival. - Photo courtesy of Melissa Leu

The 15-minute documentary is centered around an atypical family composed of a gay couple raising two adopted young children of different races.

Yet as Leu, a senior majoring in print journalism, points out, “On the surface they may seem like a very unique family, but when you get to know them, they’re actually pretty traditional.”

Although it might seem unconventional at first glance, after watching the film, this family looks no different than any other.

John and Alen live a fairy-tale lifestyle. After falling in love and getting married, they raise two children by themselves. With one full-time working dad, one full-time stay-at-home dad and a house with a white picket fence, how much more traditional can you get?

“They are like a 1950s traditional family, just with a very unique family structure,” said Haig, a Ph.D. studying education.

What started as an assignment became an award-winning production.

Leu and Haig began work on the project in the Documentary Production class taught by professor Bill Yahraus. The assignment for the class was simply to make a short documentary.

With this prompt and a rough outline, Leu and Haig created a combination of a social issue piece and a heartwarming story.

Haig gives credit to the class, saying it added to the film’s strength.

The film was awarded Official Selection at seven different Film Festivals (and counting), and was granted the prestigious Remi Award at the 2011 Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, the festival where directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were discovered.

Leu is in awe of the acclaim the film has received.

“I’m amazed by how much success we got with this film. We just wanted to make something that our friends could watch,” she said.

Despite all the publicity they have received and the controversial subject matter their film portrays, the filmmakers’ intention was simple.

“Our goal wasn’t to push any sort of agenda. It was to show people who might not normally be exposed that gay families exist,” Leu said. “We were just trying to tell a story.”

Leu and Haig take the audience into the life of a family they would never have had the chance to see before, creating a captivating story as well as a conversation starter.

“Although we never intended to push an agenda, the film will inevitably raise discussion about the issue [of gay rights and civil liberties],” Haig said.

But when watching the film, that issue fades into the background as the viewer follows the family members through their everyday lives. Leu and Haig were able to capture the family at its most natural.

“It was like we were wallflowers in their home,” Haig said. “This is them being themselves.”

In the end, the film is not about bringing up controversial issues or trying to start a movement.

“It doesn’t matter whether your gay, straight or somewhere in between, what makes a family is love, and I think everyone can agree on that,” Leu said.

Leu and Haig insist that production of this film was an enjoyable experience.

“We’re happy we ended up finding such an important message — that all you really need to have a family is love,” Haig said.

To find out more about the film, the family and future events, visit

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