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Review: Our Father – “It certainly does captivate throughout.”

Our Father. Cr. Netflix © 2022

If you’ve ever taken one of those ancestry DNA tests, imagine getting your results and instead of just a few familial matches getting thousands.  This happened, and actually is still happening, to people near Indianapolis, Indiana.  The story is still truly unfolding.  Director Lucie Jourdan explores this unbelievable tale in her debut feature documentary Our Father.

In the 80’s in Indianapolis couples experiencing fertility issues largely visited one man, Dr. Donald Cline.  His success rate was high, and at a time when the medicine surrounding fertility seemed like a new frontier, this doctor gave women something they had been missing – hope of starting a family.  But things were different then, these weren’t the days of sperm banks where samples were readily available and there was choice. Then, the samples had to be fresh, and if a woman’s husband couldn’t provide a viable sample, Dr. Cline said he could get one from the medical residents at the nearby hospital, and he promised he’d never use a donor more than three times.

So imagine the surprise of 35 year old Jacoba Ballard, who in 2014 took a 23andMe DNA test hoping to find a relative, maybe even a sibling.  From the age of ten, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, she knew she was different than her other family members.  Her parents were open with her that she was conceived with the aid of a sperm donor.  What she didn’t now was that with one swab, that sample of a tiny double helix of genetic material would take her on a journey that would uncover more family members than she ever could have predicted, and also revealed a pretty sinister deception; that Dr. Cline was in fact inseminating patients with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent.

Our Father, a film that could be considered a horror documentary (it is a Blumhouse production after all), has some incredibly jaw dropping moments.  As Jourdan follows Ballard’s own investigation into her expansive family tree there are many twists and turns.  Ballard wants an answer to the question “Why?” something she thinks of daily, and unfortunately this film won’t come to any conclusions, however its hypotheses and uncovered facts are often shocking.  Almost as shocking as the fact that this ‘doctor’ never got more than a slap on the wrist for his horrific actions.  Actions that have torn families, and individuals, apart.

Director Jourdan works best with what she has, but there is understandably a lack of actual footage from the time these crimes occurred.  Instead, as many Netflix docs tend to do, the film relies too much on dramatization with actors playing Cline and other players in this story, sometimes even lip syncing when there is audio available.  Often these tend to turn out a little cheesy or trite and detracts from some of the film’s impact.  Our Father is at its best when it simply interviews those affected.  As the ‘sibling counter’ ticks up and we meet more people who have been plunged into a crisis of identity, it becomes clear just how appalling and significant Cline’s were.  The victims’ words are incredibly compelling and the facts of this tale atrocious.  They tell their own immersive tale that did not require the reenactments.

However, while I hesitate to call Our Father entertaining due to its horrific real-world content, it certainly does captivate throughout.  Hopefully Jourdan’s film and the audience that watches it can affect change to the laws surrounding insemination and consent, so they can finally be applied.  Then actions such as Cline’s, and the 44 other doctors Jourdan reveals have done similarly, can be brought to justice.  Until then, Ballard continues to count her siblings, transforming their lives with the knowledge she has, and forever altering their sense of self all due to the actions of one despicable man.

Our Father was released on Netflix May 11, 2022

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