"Smile" - A movie of hope

"Smile" is a powerful film based

on the poignant experiences of

80,000 children suffering from

facial deformities who were offered

reconstructive surgery through an

international charity organization

named Operation Smile.

Operation Smile was founded in

1982 by Dr. William Magee Jr, a plastic

surgeon, and his wife Kathleen, a nurse

and clinical social worker, who wished

to give hope and dignity to children

haunted by fear and shame because

of cleft lips and palates.

A portion of the film's proceeds

will benefit the humanitarian


The movie, opening April 8 in

Santa Monica and San Francisco,

features stars Beau Bridges, Cheri

Oteri, Mika Boorem, Yi Ding and

Luoyong Wang.

The film was inspired by the

experience of teen-age Katharine

Kramer as she volunteered to raise

donations for her Malibu High

School's charity club.

"It struck a light in me when I

realized that I could have a role in

bringing hope and happiness into

those children's lives, and make the

world a little better," said Kramer, a

sophomore at Loyola University.

At age 15, Kramer decided to

step out of her privileged existence

and joined a medical mission to the

Philippines organized by Operation

Smile. There she provided emotional

support to children with facial

deformities who experienced the

reconstructive surgery.

Kramer 's father Jeffrey, a

journeyman actor, was inspired to

write and direct his first film, "Smile,"

after witnessing his daughter's selfempowerment

as she transformed into

a compassionate and well-rounded


He grasped pieces of his daughter's

experiences and incorporated them

into a stirring and philosophical tale

that underlines the importance of

altruism and authenticity in reaching


E v e n t h o u g h " S m i l e " i s

a commercial film, it celebrates

traditional values, citizenry and openmindedness

as it shows relationships

between father and daughter,

student and teacher, and insider and


"We all want the same from our

children, whether we are from China or

America. We want them to be healthy,

educated and non-prejudiced," said


The film draws a parallel between

American and Chinese parenting,

evoking a common ground between

them. Daniel (Beau Bridges)

encourages teen-age daughter Kathie

(Mika Boorem) to volunteer for

Doctor's Gift, a club at her high

school, to go on a medical mission in

China, while Daniel (Luoyong Wang)

motivates his daughter Lyn, (Yi Ding)

to open up, let go of her fears and seek

free reconstructive surgery to correct

her cleft lip.

"A film is a visual language. It

has the power to transcend language

barriers," said Kramer. The director

contrasted Katharine's exuberant life

in California with Lyn's reclusive

existence in provincial China, and then

showed how the two found each other

and became friends in spite of their

differences. "It's almost like building a

bridge that connects two worlds."

"Smile" is not a documentary

but a film in which facts and fiction

intertwine. Fascinated by Chinese

culture, Kramer decided to shoot

in China instead of the Philippines,

where Katharine had completed her

humanitarian mission.

"Smile" is one of few films to obtain

special permission from the Chinese

government to shoot in both Shanghai

and Kunshan, Jiangsu Province.

"I grew up in China, but in a big

city with high rises like here in the

U.S., so for me it was wonderful

and interesting to film in the Jiangsu

province. It is so culturally authentic

and well-preserved," said Yi, who

plays Lyn. "I think the audience will

see that everyone put their heart and

soul into this movie."

To play Lyn, Yi had to wear a

prosthetic cleft lip for 10 hours every

day, which made it difficult for her to

talk, and sometimes simply to keep

her eyes open because of certain

applications used. The prosthetic cleft

lip looked disturbingly real.

"Playing Lyn was really emotionally

intense. I felt the shame and fear that

those children feel when I walked with

a cleft lip in the street. People would

look at me with disgust," said Yi.

Her experience made Yi realize

that "we tend to take what we have

for granted, even though for some

people simply to be able to smile

would be the most precious gift life

could offer them."

"Our youth needs to be reminded

how good it feels to help one another.

At Malibu High, community service

is obligatory for graduation, but when

kids start doing it, they get hooked

and often get more involved," said

Dr. Michael D. Matthews, Santa

Monica-Malibu Unified School

District assistant superintendent.

Matthews introduced Operation Smile

Club into Malibu High School and is

emotionally tied to the film.

"It's a local experience," said