Donor Unknown follows the story of JoEllen Marsh, 20, as she goes in search of the sperm donor father she only knows as Donor 150.
JoEllen has always known her family ‘wasn't like other families'. She grew up in Pennsylvania with two mothers, and a burning curiosity to know more about her anonymous donor father. When JoEllen discovers a unique online registry that connects donor-conceived children, she manages to track down a half-sister in New York. The New York Times picks up the story, and, over time, 12 more half-siblings emerge across the USA.
The New York Times article also falls into the hands of Jeffrey Harrison, living alone with four dogs and a pigeon in a broken-down RV in a Venice Beach car park. In the 1980s, Jeffrey supplemented his meagre income by becoming a sperm donor at California Cryobank. His number was Donor 150.
Donor Unknown follows JoEllen from her discovery of her siblings, to the moment Jeffrey steps forward to identify himself as Donor 150, to her decision to travel to California to meet him. Along the way, we meet Danielle in New York, who was not told by her parents that she was donor-conceived till the age of 14, and is uncertain of the kind of relationship she could ever sustain with Jeffrey; Rachelle in Memphis, who is not sure if she ever wants to meet him; Ryann and Roxanne, who live in California and have already established some kind of relationship with Jeffrey; and Fletcher, 19, who decides the time is right to follow JoEllen on her journey to meet their donor father.
At the centre of the film is Jeffrey, living with his dogs and his pigeon in a car park by the beach, and preparing his broken-down RV for the arrival of JoEllen and Fletcher. At 52, his sperm donor days are over but his story has cast him in the role of an unlikely pioneer. His decision to cast aside his donor anonymity to meet them is a step few donors have taken.
Donor Unknown is a film about a new kind of ‘family’. Linked by their connection to a single sperm donor – 150 - parents and children are creating and navigating a new set of relationships. They are discovering first hand what a close biological connection to a stranger means for themselves and their identity. What happens next opens up some fascinating questions about nature and nurture, the responsibilities of parenthood, the moral integrity of the cryobanks, and the hazards of genetic inheritance. As the laws on donor anonymity change in some countries, there are fewer sperm donors and there’s a roaring trade in ‘fertility tourism’, for overseas sperm and egg donation.
Donor Unknown is a unique snapshot of a group of random people who are all pioneers. The parents - heterosexual, gay, single and in couples – were determined to have children against the odds, and happened to choose the same sperm donor. Now they’re living with the unpredictable consequences of their choice. What impact will meeting this stranger – Donor 150 - have on their children? What kinds of relationship can the children build with their biological father? How will letting Donor 150 into their lives affect their relationships as a family? And how will meeting his biological children change Jeffrey’s life?