Three Identical Strangers tells the crazy but true and sad story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman.
The three of them were separated at birth when they were adopted by three different families. Bobby was sent off to live with the affluent Shafran family. Eddy went to the middle class Gallands. As for David, he went to live with the blue-collar Kellmans. All were adopted by Jewish families who had an older daughter living with them, also adopted.
Flash forward to 1980 when Bobby enrolls at Sullivan County Community College. He soon learns that Eddy is his brother by way of one of Eddy’s friends. After a Newsday journalist Howard Schneider reports on the discovery, one of David’s friends shows him the article. The triplets are subsequently reunited at David’s Aunt Hedy’s house. The trio were suddenly a media sensation, being interviewed by the likes of Tom Brokaw and Phil Donahue. Ultimately, the film grows sadder as we dive in to past and learn the why and how’s behind the separation.
It’s not until the wives are introduced a half hour in when one realizes that people are talking about Eddy in past tense as if one starts getting this sense of tragedy. It’s sad to watch as things unfold on screen. Eddy was diagnosed with manic depression and one can only wonder what would have happened if the three bothers would have grown up together.
Where this story gets strange and sad isn’t that their birth mother gave them up for adoption but that the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services did so with the Louise Wise Services, a preeminent adoption agency at the time, in the name of science research being done by Dr. Peter Neubauer, the Director of the Child Development Center in Manhattan. What they did isn’t just mind-boggling but also unethical! How do you call yourself a Jewish agency and pull this sort of stunt?!? It’s simply unfathomable to say the least.
What makes one angry in learning about the study is that it’s under seal until 2066! There are people who have earned they were separated at birth because of this study, including Identical Strangers authors Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, while others remain at large. Because the study remains under seal, the other victims might never know of a twin or triplet in existence.
Director Tim Wardle is able to get two people involved with the study (to some extent) to appear on camera: Dr. Peter Neubauer’s research assistant, Natasha Josefowitz (see article here), and research assistant Lawrence Perlman. Years later and looking back on the events, Lawrence calls the study as being something that “was undoubtedly ethically wrong.” It’s especially powerful that they were the only two to discuss the study on camera. Otherwise, we’d know even less than what we know from watching the film.
Wardle tells their story in a way that can only be told as a documentary. It would not play as well if it were a narrative feature. It’s not only the two surviving brothers who tell their story. Schein and Bernstein also open up on their story. It’s not until Lawrence Wright starts researching what has been printed about the twin study in which more awful things come into play. Wright had been the first journalist to unearth the study and tell the triplets about it in 1995. Make no mistake: there are forces at play that would love nothing more than to see this film silenced altogether.
If there’s a legacy for Three Identical Strangers, it’s that the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services should release the study. At the very least , they ought to let people know they have a sibling.
DIRECTOR: Tim Wardle
FEATURING: Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, David Kellman
Three Identical Strangers held its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Neon will release the film on June 29, 2018.