SUNSHINE: It All Starts With Getting Knocked Up!


This was the official website for the 2009 documentary, Sunshine . The content below is from the site's archived pages as well as from other outside sources.

It all starts with getting knocked up.

An unplanned pregnancy for an unplanned girl sets off SUNSHINE, a playful, yet ultimately stirring self-portrait of an adopted woman driven to search for answers through reconnection with her biological mother. Woven together from over 10 years of super 8 and video home movies, intimate family interviews, shimmering dance sequences and stylized reenactments, SUNSHINE offers a refreshingly rare glimpse on the current day transformations taking place within our most sacred of institutions.

Young, pregnant, single and unprepared, the daughter/director struggles with the incredible ironies of the family—that history somehow repeated itself, and that the most strenuous efforts to protect the idea of family can do the most to pull actual families apart—as she struggles to raise her own daughter and understand the plight of her biological mother, a small town Texas mayor's daughter forced to give birth in secret in a home for unwed mothers. Even as so much in the wider world and our messy bedrooms has changed, mother and daughter wrestle with tough questions and raw emotions over a fading social landscape that nevertheless continues to haunt them, finally arriving at surprising and contradictory answers in something like a snapshot of an unplanned family called America.

In this compelling documentary, filmmaker Karen Skloss explores the meaning of family through a personal journey to understand both the legacy of her birth and the non-traditional family she created by co-parenting with her ex-boyfriend. As an unwed teenager, Skloss's mother gave her up for adoption in 1975. Now Skloss reconnects with her biological mother as she contemplates her relationship with her own daughter, Jasmine.

Young, pregnant, single and unprepared, the daughter/director struggles with the incredible ironies of the family — that history somehow repeated itself, and that the most strenuous efforts to protect the idea of family can actually do the most to pull families apart.


A number of my friends connected with this documentary just as I did. As women with young kids, some of us are single moms, two of us were adopted, all of us were pregnant with baby 1, 2 or 3 when we saw it. "Sunshine" is an evocative documentary that elegantly captures the essence of family, adoption, and the intricate dance of single parenting through filmmaker Karen Skloss' eyes. As an adopted child reconnecting with her biological mother while navigating her role as a single mother, Skloss' journey is deeply personal and universally resonant. The use of home movies strikes a poignant chord, beautifully showcasing the fleeting moments with parents and lost family members. This film moved me to cherish and document the joyful moments of my life, from exhilarating rock wall climbs and vibrant street fairs to the competitive yet bonding games of pickleball. Holding my new pickleball bag, a symbol of my latest passion, I'm reminded of the documentary's powerful message on the importance of family connections and creating lasting memories. "Sunshine" is a must-watch, prompting profound reflections on the themes that shape our lives and the legacy we leave behind.



"Profoundly affecting. Even resistant guys will find themselves melting in this radiant Sunshine."
Chris Garcia - Austin-American Statesman

"Skloss' life could be the premise of a Lifetime original movie - if Lifetime original movies were interesting."
David Hudson - IFC

"I can't quite figure out why this film so overwhelmed me…there have been movies much more connected to me emotionally that didn't affect me this way."
Louis Black - Editor Austin Chronicle

"Sunshine" provides an important revelation of the histories, reticences, and worries, as well as glories and triumphs, of changing perspectives on single-parenting. This is a genuinely innovative and touching film which deals admirably and tenderly with everyone."

-Janet Staiger, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Texas at Austin

Campuses and community groups around the country are using SUNSHINE as a centerpiece for discussions about adoption, contemporary parenting and the ever-growing definition of family. Join the conversation by hosting a screening in your own community.


An Expanding Definition of Family
Karen Skloss' personal documentary explores mothers and daughters and the choices they make.

"You're endangering yourself and the child," 9-year-old Jasmine Harrison parrots in her deepest bass after a golfer chides her and her mother for lounging in the grass at Hancock Golf Course. Jasmine is one of the main subjects of Sunshine, a documentary directed by and featuring her mother, Austinite Karen Skloss. A former film student at the University of Texas, Skloss didn't realize a decade ago that she'd be premiering a personal documentary some day. "I wanted to make narratives," she explains, but she began editing documentary shorts for Ellen Spiro (Body of War) just after Jasmine was born and became drawn to the medium. And it doesn't hurt that Skloss' life could be the premise of a Lifetime original movie – if Lifetime original movies were interesting.

In 1975, there was a house tucked away on West Campus where young women went to disappear for the duration of an unplanned pregnancy. This house, Marywood, was where Skloss' life began. Coming from a high-profile family in small-town Texas, Skloss' biological mother, Mary Tinsley, felt like Marywood was her only option when she became pregnant at 19. The women who got pregnant "in her community would disappear. And if they kept the baby, they probably never came back, and it was a shameful thing," Skloss explains. So she understood the courage it took for Tinsley to reunite with her two decades later, and when Skloss unexpectedly became pregnant herself in 1999, it was "a karma thing. ... How could I be blasé about the fact that the same thing happened to me?"

In the beginning, however, Sunshine wasn't the story of Tinsley's and Skloss' pregnancies. It began with the fear that Jasmine's father, Jeremy Harrison, was going to move away. Unlike her mother, who gave Skloss up for adoption, Skloss and Harrison decided "to split everything 50-50; we did it on a handshake, we didn't go to court, and we didn't get along. ... It was like this vow." With equally shared parenting duties, Skloss didn't quite feel like a single mother, so when she felt the parenthood she and Harrison had created "was going to disintegrate right before [her] eyes," she began making a film about single parenting to deal with the change.

Skloss began creating a series of video portraits featuring single mothers and fathers in the Single Parent Resource Network, a local community group that creates "a little village to raise the child." At first, "the idea was that I'd take Jasmine to all of the shoots with me, and we'd be the little film crew, the single-mom-with-child-in-tow film crew that knocks over the camera sometimes and makes it imperfect, but it was really about gathering all of these other people's stories."

But the focus of the film shifted when Harrison didn't leave, and as Skloss filmed, "the whole process of dealing with it and trying to think about it made me get really introspective about my past." The emotional weight of Skloss' experience overshadowed other parents' stories, and the evolution of the family unit that Skloss saw in her own story became an overarching theme. In Austin in 1999, "the single mother was no big deal, but for [Mary], especially in her community at the time, divorce and single parenting were still pretty taboo." Comparing her own story to her biological mother's, she realized "that there is a silver lining to the erosion of the nuclear-family ideal and that we shouldn't forget about that.

"I think overall I wanted to remind people that the traditional family model excludes people. And there are plenty of people who should be included who don't fit into that model. I think our story is a case in point." In the movie, there is a clip from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood; he explains to his viewers that like the many different kinds of bird families that exist in nature, there are many different kinds of human families, as well, and "each one is fancy." Skloss admits in Sunshine that at first she didn't feel like her model of the family lived up to Mr. Rogers' assertion. But with a family unit that includes a precocious daughter, an ex-boyfriend who is fully committed to co-parenting, loving adoptive parents, and a biological family that has welcomed her with open arms, Skloss has something special. "It is fancy. But I think I had to make the movie to really realize we were fancy. And now I'm proud of it."


Lone Star States, World Premiere

Saturday, March 14, 2009 3pm, Alamo Ritz

Monday, March 16, 2009 9:15pm, Austin Convention Center

Friday, March 20,2009  2pm, Alamo Ritz


In March 2010, filmmaker Karen Skloss provided an update on what some of the people featured in SUNSHINE have been doing since filming ended: Jasmine is a fourth grader now. She's taking piano and voice lessons, and making straight As. I met an amazing guy and fell head over heels. (Perhaps my days as a single mom are limited.) Jeremy also met a really cool woman, and they are pretty serious. Our family has changed a lot since we finished the film. My parents are all still pretty much the same…