Donor Unknown Interview
Donor Unknown Interview
Conversely, how did it feel for you, JoEllen, to have that moment with the cameras present?

JoEllen Marsh

It didn't really make too much of a difference for me. Actually, thinking about it, I was more frustrated that I had to wait till the mikes were on Jeffrey and to go through all of that stuff. I just wanted to be able to meet him, so the fact that the camera was following me didn't really matter, it's just that I was finally meeting him.
So you met Jeffrey well before JoEllen did then?

Jerry Rothwell

Yeah. A couple of years before, yeah.
Why did it take so long then? For you to meet Jeffrey too?

JoEllen Marsh

Well, I didn't really want to meet him until I turned 18. I think everybody's just more comfortable with the situation if you wait. But, I just really hadn't had the opportunity. It's a big deal to buy a plane ticket all the way across the country and then go out there and do that whole thing, so ... I was just getting to that point where I really wanted to make an effort to go out there when the documentary came along.
So who met Jeffrey first then? Presumably the two donor siblings that live in California?

Jerry Rothwell

Ryann had met him. And in fact, there was a scene in the film where Ryann talked about her relationship with Jeffrey, which is kind of interesting. From the point of view of telling the story of the film, I wanted to try and tell it from JoEllen's point of view. And so, in the end, that was a scene that got cut. It's a DVD extra. Because you're always selecting where the emotion in the film lies, I suppose or where your identification in the film is. So, Ryann met him fairly early on and then I think Roxanne met him within days of finding out.
It must have been very strange to have donor siblings coming forward during the filming. You must have been wondering, 'Where does this end?'

Jerry Rothwell

Yeah. From a film-making point of view it was like, 'Well, do we take account of that or do we just carry on with the direction we were going? How do we work with that?' I think it's useful for the film to have Roxanne come forward because in a way she represents all those other children who may not have come forward or who may be about to come forward. There's that sense that there are potentially others out there.

JoEllen Marsh

It's always exciting when you find out about a new donor sibling. It's a different experience every time, because we have these relationships and we've all met each other and then having another person come in, it might be a little bit daunting for them, but I hope we make it fairly welcoming and I hope they don't feel like that.
Because for you it was like one at a time, but for someone else, it's like, suddenly you've got seven or 14 new siblings.

JoEllen Marsh

It was me and Danielle, but I think Danielle and I have been on the phone, for the first contact with every one of those siblings, so that's been pretty cool for both of us.
Are there any onscreen updates you'd like to add, like the captions at the end of documentaries?

Jerry Rothwell

Yeah. Well, sadly, the pigeon's died. It was murdered by crows.

JoEllen Marsh

And one of his dogs died too.

Jerry Rothwell

And Jeffrey sort of moved away from – as he said in the film, he did move up to the countryside and now he's back on Venice Beach again. So yeah, that's what's happened since.

JoEllen Marsh

Danielle might be moving to the Middle East with me, to live in Jordan. We both study Arabic and everything, but it's just a really weird coincidence that we're both ending up there.
What was the strangest moment during the whole thing?

Jerry Rothwell

For me, the strangest moment – I think it's weird in terms of the film, because it's hard for me to view the film objectively - but when Roxanne appears in the car park and there's Fletcher and JoEllen's there and Jeffrey's looking for his pigeon and there's just this whole sort of random, very surreal kind of events all happening at the same time which were totally, you know, not prepared.

JoEllen Marsh

[Giggles] Yeah.
Look at that! No erectile dysfunction in the animal kingdom!
One thing you touch on very briefly – you have an interview with the woman who runs the donor sibling website and she talks about it – are the ethics of sperm donor clinics as regards donation and information. That's another direction the film could have gone in. Can you talk about that decision?

Jerry Rothwell

Yeah, it's a film which tries to look at an issue through a set of personal experiences about that issue, rather than through a set of experts giving their views about it. But I did want to put into the film a layer which referenced the fact that there's a sort of industry behind that and that does raise a whole set of ethical issues. I hope that those different layers in the film, between the sort of personal experiences, the different experiences of parents, donors, children and then the industry, set thoughts going in the mind of the viewer that gets them talking and thinking about the film afterwards. And certainly we've had some interesting debates at screenings about exactly those issues. So it does provoke an interest in those issues, even if the film doesn't really deliver on a thorough exploration of them. But it's not that kind of film.
The sperm donor clinic guy, Cappy, seemed like a real character. I was slightly sorry not to see a bit more of him.

Jerry Rothwell

I mean there is more of him that got cut out of the film, which again, will probably be on the DVD. His collection of mammal penises, for example. “Look at that! No erectile dysfunction in the animal kingdom!”
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Content updated: 19/07/2018 10:42

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