This morning I posted my initial reactions to the new indie film “Donor Unknown” that premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Now I am posting my second set of reactions based on notes I took while watching the film. Overall I am still very impressed by the movie. I have questions though, comments and observations. Spoiler alert as I am discussing specifics of the movie.
Lies re Not Telling
Sibling Daniele Pagano stated in the film that her parents did not tell her until she was 13 that she was donor conceived and she was angry at being lied at. I wished the film had explored those emotions further. Also of the six siblings we met, was Daniele the only sibling whose parents were a heterosexual couple? I think of the main five siblings she was but I was not sure. No direct effect on the movie’s premise of the siblings finding each other and finding and meeting their donor Jeffrey Harrison but still a fact I was interested in.
Dating Half Siblings
I was happy that the movie addressed Rachel’s concerns of dating a half sibling or blood relative. It is a valid concern of both the donor conceived individual and of their parents. Especially when as Wendy Kramer explained in the film that the “limits” promised by the sperm banks is not enforced and as she demonstrated by example that unrelated Donor 1476 had 58 offspring. Again not directly affecting the movie’s premise but was glad they addressed and brought out this issue.
When we started the process of choosing donors the first donor we used was from California Cryobank. We looked at both California and Fairfax as recommended by the clinic we were then working with. Cappy Rothman’s stroll from as he stated “Masterbation Room” to room was very creepy. Did he really say that or a variation of that? I don’t think the donor conceived or prospective parents really needed to see the pornographic images. I am glad the film makers showed it as he stated it but in reality these were images that these parties just really don’t want in our memories.
Certainly the issue of donors being paid for their sperm was noted when Jeffrey Harrison, Donor 150, admitted that for years his payments helped him pay the rent. Although in his case I was happier to know the money paid his rent as opposed to your standard college student who uses the money to supplement their beer money. Jeffrey Harrison certainly appeared to have altruistic intentions mixed with his realization that this was an easier pay day than many jobs out there.
Donor Fantasies and Realities
Jeffrey Harrison as a donor and as a human being is certainly one of those people as he described that lives on the fringe of society. A self described fringe monkey. He seems like a man who honestly believes in truth (as he sees it) and living his life as a free spirit. The reactions to him by the siblings was compassionate and interested. Certainly it was clear that at least one sibling had no desire to meet him and felt that the contact initiated was enough to answer her questions. The honesty of the siblings as to whom they expected their donor would be was typical as I expect of all donor conceived fantasies of who and what their donor might be. In truth reality might now live up to expectations. This movie made that clear. But as a man this man helped bring these individuals together and his willingness to step forward is a gift.
Welcome to the Family
At this point my children refer to their half siblings as their brother and sister just as many of the movie’s siblings have decided to do. The amateur genealogist in me loved the chart that JoEllen put together showing the inter-family relationships that the Donor 150 siblings have to each other. It’s amazing to watch how quickly these young people seem to bond. Granted the movie condenses its presentation of the time these siblings found each other and the development of these relationships. The scene of four of the 14 known siblings in either Ryan or Roxanne’s California home was fun to watch.
I also enjoyed the scene where Fletcher’s mom states she is not yet into the new reality of the expanding family her son is now part of and that she is being drawn into. Her statement that Jeffrey must earn his place in the family is something I believe every parent (bio or social) immediately connects to but in reality the acceptance of Jeffrey, or any donor found, is up to the donor conceived individual’s and the parents will be dragged into accepting it or at least dealing with it.
The movie “The Kid’s Are All Right” demonstrated how the kid’s brought their donor into their home’s front door. The crazy affair entered into by Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo played more into the fantasy / horror that some parties have of what could happen if a donor is contacted and found. That story line was interesting as it played out like many movie play out infidelity fears and its effect on families. It just played with a same sex marriage being betrayed by one of its spouses. It was at that point that it was no longer a donor conception movie to me and destroyed any short term and possibly long term contact those teenagers might have had with their donor.
The images of Jeffrey riding bikes with JoEllen, Fletcher, and I believe Roxanne were great fun. I admit I did wonder whether this was suggested by one of the siblings or Jeffrey or perhaps the film makers.
In this movie, it is clear that a few of the siblings will maintain continued contact with Jeffrey and it is unclear if the others will or will not. It was also interesting and a bit sad at the end, after the siblings departed, when Jeffrey commented that it is “back to the birds” and that he still had his puppies.
Overall I liked the movie and as I stated in my first post I think the movie did what it set out to do. It introduced us to how the siblings found each other (thanks to Wendy and Ryan once again for the DSR) and their first meeting with their donor. The courage of Jeffrey to step forward in reaction to the initial NY Times story must be applauded. Certainly not every donor would. His actions are the exception. His statement that it is the right of the [donor conceived] to meet or not should be the norm. The movie Donor Unknown should not be missed as it is a great step forward in addressing the underlying issues and putting real faces to the stories. Does it FULLY address and delve deeply into the hard core issues of anonymous donors, donor remuneration, cryobank screening of donors? No, but it brings the issues to the surface. It is not some cutesy romantic comedy / melodrama using donor conception as a prop to sell movie tickets claiming it is groundbreaking movie making. This movie stars the real kids and they were all right.