Review: With Typical True Crime Style, Our Father Recounts a Troubling Fertility Saga

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the new Lucie Jourdan-directed documentary Our Father is produced by Jason Blum (among others), because the events being recounted are a true-life horror story in every conceivable way (pun not intended). The film is the story of a large number of adults, most of whom grew up in the Indianapolis area, who were all conceived with the help of Dr. Donald Cline, a church-going fertility specialist. Just how much help he gave these families who couldn’t conceive on their own was not discovered until recently, thanks to the growing popularity of services that track a person’s ancestry. When familial matches started showing up among similar-aged men and women, all of whose parents used Cline as their specialist, the truth was revealed: that he inseminated many of his patients with his own sperm, even when he had just been given a viable sample from a patient’s own spouse.

A great deal of this story is told through the experience of Jacoba Ballard, who discovered early on that she had seven half-siblings when she took her at-home DNA test (that number has since grown to nearly 100) and she began a campaign to discover just how deep Cline’s deception went. Eventually, she revealed a deeply unsettling and sickening truth, not just about Cline’s deeds but his motivations and also his family history of autoimmune disorders (resulting in many diseases popping up in his offspring), meaning his sperm would never have been approved had he been an anonymous donor.

When the justice system failed these half-siblings, they took their story to any news outlet and talkshow that would listen, and it turns out, a great number of these places wanted very much to hear their story. Believe it or not, that’s only the jumping-off point for Cline’s story, which is twisted by fringe religious beliefs (look up “Quiverfull” if you want a preview) and a lie he repeats frequently that he only did this with women whose spouses were infertile. Thanks to some of his clever offspring, many conversations they had with him were recorded, so we get to hear his panicking at the notion that the details of what he’d done would be revealed. He even vaguely threatens some of this victims, and almost always has a gun on his hip (legal in Indiana, of course), even when the local constable comes to arrest him. The fact that the system had trouble finding a law that he broke says all you need to know about how Indiana protects women’s rights.

Our Father uses the occasional re-creation sparingly, and helping to flesh out the story to a degree that makes it all the more disturbing, especially with the realization that because most of the people affected lived within a 25-mile radius of each other. Thus there was a good chance some of these siblings had dated each other—or worse. Also, many of his unknowing offspring were now using him as their fertility doctor, an upsetting prospect for one woman in particular who is interviewed and visibly shaken at the idea of a close male family member examining her. Is the story sensationalistic? Yes, but it’s also painfully true, and emotions run at full tilt throughout the film. Most of director Jourdan’s visual techniques are fairly typical for today’s true-crime films or series, but the story and the depth of Cline’s depravity make the movie something worth looking into if morally distorted behavior is your cup of tea.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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