Monday, April 25, 2011

My Full Review of "Donor Unknown" - A Must See

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.

Donation Rooms

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.

Donor Remuneration

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.

In Summary

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.

Initial Reactions to "Donor Unknown"

Just finished watching the film "Donor Unknown". The following post is the comment I left on the Tribeca Film Festival website below the view screen:

I have a lot of strong reactions to the film. I remember reading each of the NY Times articles and wondering about JoEllen and Danielle and how they were handling all the issues surrounding their discoveries and the meaning of it all.

Each of the 6 young people in the film seem very well adjusted. We did not meet all 14 known siblings so we don't know their reactions or how they have dealt with the knowledge of their conception story or the concept that they have 14 siblings and probably many many more.

Overall this is the first American film letting us know and feel a bit how American teenagers born within the last 20 years are reacting to the issues. Certainly the film cannot cover every issue but it is certainly the most complete to date and was very very well done. It respected the thoughts and feelings of all parties that participated. I want to say thank you to the film makers and each of the siblings for putting their story into the public realm. I say thank you my children and for me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 Tribeca Film Festival Debuts “Donor Unknown”

In late 2005, the NY Times ran a series of articles by Amy Harmon dealing with donor conception one of which was titled “Hello, I’m Your Sister. Our Father is Donor 150”. My reactions to that article can be found here. In early 2007, Donor 150, Jeffrey Harrison, broke his silence and came forward. Well now the story of that donor and his donor conceived offspring has been made into an indie film titled “Donor Unknown” and premiering here in NYC at the Tribeca Film Festival. An article online by IndieWIRE discusses the film and talks with its director.

I have only watched the two minute trailer which can be found on the film’s official website and would love to see the 78 minute film in person at the TFF but don’t think I will be able to swing that but it appears the film can be screened on line based on the schedule. There is an on-line screening this Monday, April 25th at 6:00am EST and later in the week on Friday, April 29th also at 6:00am EST.

The film looks quite interesting and the children are all American teenagers so I expect we will see some genuine reactions regarding their thoughts about half siblings, their donor, and their origins. As the movie is about them and the donor I expect we will very little of their moms and if any of them have social fathers like myself. I would be curious for those views. I will also be curious to down the road to buy a DVD copy so when my kids are bit older they can watch. At 9 and 6 I am guessing they would not yet want to watch. I asked my son to watch the trailer online but he was more interested in what was on the TV instead.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Could My Children Erase Me Legally ?

I read today in the NY Times of an interesting case before the NYS Courts where a woman, Nina Viola Montepagani, is looking to remove the name of her father, Giuseppe Viola, from her birth certificate or at least the name of the man who was married to her mother when she was born (and therefore legally considered her natural father). Sound like a possible donor insemination case? You might think so but it’s not. But could it have implication for families and individuals conceived via donor insemination?

The case in question in summary involves a woman’s desire to amend her birth certificate to name a man, a Dr. Sebastiano Reali, whom in all likelihood is her biological father and whom left a fortune to an Italian university as he had no existing descendants. This is not to say there is not “evidence” to support her claim or to say the woman is pursuing this goal to only gain access to possibly inheriting the aforementioned fortune. It appears she loved dearly the man that raised her as his own and he loved her. But she wants to correct a fact that she always felt was wrong.

The Court if I am reading the decision correctly said there was not enough evidence to support her claim to move her position forward thus denying her request to remove her father’s name. The implications of the case are interesting. It would seem if there would be enough evidence perhaps a “child” could in the future petition the Courts to remove the name of the man listed as their father on their birth certificates. Thus erasing the legal link to their DI Dad. I am sure there is more to the decision that that but in summary at a high level that is the question.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Perspective: "Why I have to legally adopt my own son"

Because I used to write this blog daily I am subscribed to several news alerts when articles are published regarding donor conception. Today I received a link to the above headline published by Salon yesterday on-line. I guess any topic depends on your perspective. When I first read the headline I figured it was voiced by a DI Dad like me. I was wrong.

The article is actually written by a new DI Mommy but one who is one half of lesbian couple where the non-bio parent has to adopt the child to be seen as its parent. The same thing happens to men in many states but in this case the article is written from the female perspective. Luckily for me being a NYS resident at the time of my children's birth and being legally married to their mom at that time I had no such requirement. I was considered their natural father despite the biological aspects that I am not.

Realistically the NYS law and the laws of states like it are such that there is no documentation anywhere filed with the state that states I am anything other than a natural parent. I recall something that the papers we signed with the clinic are required to be kept to complete the legalities but dont recall why at this very moment as no one ever said we would need them to prove parentage on my part. My only requirement that I know is as I stated above.

Again perspective is everything when reading headlines on this topic.