“What the three of us had for literally a decade … was an unbelievable amount of joy and happiness,” said Robert Shafran, one of the subjects of the documentary “Three Identical Strangers,” “but there was also tragedy and there was also this whole sinister thing behind it.” He joined director Tim Wardle for a special Hanukkah dinner and Q&A at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in New York City to discuss the heartwarming, but also unsettling true story behind their film. Watch them above.
Shafran lived almost 20 years before discovering that he had a twin brother, Eddy Galland. And shortly after they were reunited they discovered a third identical brother, David Kellman. Their remarkable reunion made them media sensations during the 1980s, but an uncomfortable question lingered for each of their families: why were the three siblings secretly separated from each other as infants and placed with different adoptive families? If you’re struggling to imagine an innocent explanation, there isn’t one.
“We were very concerned that somebody was going to take our story and exploit it or sensationalize it,” Shafran admitted. That’s why it took years for Wardle to earn their trust, but when the filmmaker finally showed the surviving brothers Shafran and Kellman the finished product — Galland tragically died in 1995 — they had the same reaction: “We got up. We hugged him and said, ‘You came through. You really came through.'”
For Wardle the biggest challenge, other than convincing the brothers to participate in the film, “was just trying to fit this story together. It encompasses six decades, three families, lots of people who don’t want to say anything about it. So to piece that all together to see the film that you see now … just took a huge effort.” The filmmakers even interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright (“The Looming Tower“), who had also investigated the triplets’ separation. And in some ways the story still isn’t over, as additional records were unsealed after the completion of the film.
The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Wardle won a Special Jury Prize for documentary storytelling. Kellman and Shafran were awarded by the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards as Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary. The National Board of Review cited the film as one of the year’s top five documentaries. It’s also nominated for a Producers Guild Award. And it was a box office hit, grossing $12 million domestically, which makes it the year’s third highest-grossing doc and one of the top 30 most successful docs of all time. Will it be feted by Oscars next?
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.