World premiere at Sheffield

Donor Unknown has its world premiere at Sheffield DocFest, Saturday Nov 6th, 2010 at 12.30pm

The film also has a Special Preview as part of Science at Sheffield on Friday Nov 5th at 1pm
Both screenings are in Showroom 4, followed by a Q&A

“Donor Unknown is a film that shows why documentary can be much more powerful than fiction. You couldn’t write this kind of thing!“   Sheffield DocFest

Donor Unknown is a documentary feature following the journey of JoEllen Marsh as she goes in search of the sperm donor father she only knows as Donor 150.

JoEllen, now 20, 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 which 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 United States. The 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 incoming by becoming a sperm donor at California Cryobank.  His number was Donor 150.

Donor Unknown is a uniquely 21st century story. The connections made between the children and their donor dad draw as much on modern technology as on old-fashioned coincidence.  While the siblings seem to take their ever-expanding family in their stride, Jeffrey is more apprehensive about meeting some of his biological children for the first time. Funny, moving and surprising Donor Unknown raises intriguing questions about our understanding of parenthood, and the strange power of the genetic imperative.

For Director Jerry Rothwell, the idea had an immediate appeal.  “I was drawn to this story because it seemed to me that, through an astonishing set of coincidences, Jeffrey and his children were dealing with some of the big human dilemmas posed by the rapid advances in reproductive technology. There are two kinds of journey in the film: those of the children looking for their genetic inheritance, and that of Jeffrey discovering a new family of strangers.  Both are pioneering new kinds of family connection.”

Jerry’s previous films include the award-winning feature documentaries Deep Water (Pathe, Film Four, UK Film Council) and Heavy Load (BBC,IFCtv,ITVS)

Donor Unknown is a co-production between two award-winning companies. The Producer for Redbird is Hilary Durman who originally made contact with Jeffrey Harrison while developing All About Me, a BBC drama about a donor-conceived teenager. Previous Redbird productions include The Shooting Party for Channel 4, The Time of Their Lives for BBC Storyville/UKFC, and, currently, Casablanca Calling. Met Film Producer Al Morrow’s previous films include Sync or Swim aka Men Who Swim (BBC,SVT,VPRO,ZDF/ARTE), and Jerry Rothwell’s films  Heavy Load and Deep Water. Jonny Persey of Met Film is Executive Producer of Donor Unknown.

Donor Unknown was commissioned by More 4 for True Stories, Arte France and VPRO, with funding from Sundance Documentary Fund, the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, Cinereach, NRK (Norway) and Yes (Israel).


Alongside the film’s release, there will be a programme of outreach screenings and special events – including the Science at Sheffield screening - supported by the Wellcome Trust. Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield is the scientific adviser for Donor Unknown.  “In many countries, the law has changed recently to allow donor-conceived people to know the name of their donor. There are more and more on-line registers making voluntary contact possible. So this kind of meeting between donors and their biological children, and between donor-conceived siblings will become increasingly common. Donor Unknown is a very moving film which tells the story of one of those encounters. I hope it will stimulate debate about some of the fascinating issues raised by donor-assisted conception”.

For more information, stills and clips contact:
Hilary Durman   Producer  Redbird  +44 (0) 7710 449377

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Al Morrow, Producer Met Film +44 (0) 7768 315579
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Donor Unknown DVD

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