Donor Unknown

Donor Unknown


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? These are questions that race through the minds of all of us from time to time, but these questions are even more pertinent when your father is nothing but an anonymous number on a birth certificate. Donor Unknown delves into the sticky world of artificial insemination, as several ‘donor-children’ search for their siblings online and resolve to meet their shared father.

Their father is Jeffrey Harrison. An aging and deluded hippy living in a motor-home on Venice beach, California. He will irritate anyone who tires quickly of that particularly American brand of self realisation (he is just ‘riding the journey’ and following the ‘divine spirit from day to day’). However, he is well meaning, kind and a loving father to his many animal children.

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Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell focuses his lens on the actual human children that have resulted from Jeffrey’s numerous, and hearty, donations to the California Cryobank. The kids are all now young adults, and are spread across the United States. JoEllen signs up to the online Donor Sibling Registry and before long finds herself swapping emails with a newly found sibling. They take their story to the New York Times, which provokes the attention of further siblings, bringing JoEllen’s sibling total to 14. How many other children has Jeffrey helped father? He claims to have visited the Cryobank three to four times a week for nearly ten years...

The film then begins to flirt with some very interesting questions surrounding identity and genetics. The similarities between JoEllen and her siblings, not only in physical appearance, but also in personality and physical mannerisms, are uncanny. All of them are, of course, united in their genetic relationship to Jeffrey, the self-proclaimed ‘Fringe Monkey’ who seems far more concerned by the disappearance of his flightless pigeon than the appearance of three grown children outside his motor-home.

Donor Unknown never quite pushes hard enough on the big ethical and philosophical questions involved in the notion of fatherhood by proxy, and more background to the phenomenon itself might have been nice. Yet it’s a well filmed documentary which often approaches Jeffrey in a deadpan manner as if ironically winking toward the audience. For example, Jeffrey is espousing at some length about the hidden conspiracy of government cabals which control the weather and simulate earthquakes: all the while he struggles to remove a piece of duck tape stuck to his shirt. It also certainly provokes thought, if not the desire for action, and it gave me much to ponder at its close.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2011
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A young woman born via donor insemination advertises in search of her biological father, meets half-siblings and subsequently explores her feelings for the surprised stranger who reads about her quest.
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Director: Jerry Rothwell

Year: 2010

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK

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