Donor Unknown

Donor Unknown

About the Film

JoEllen Marsh, 20, wants to know who her biological father is. All she knows of him is the label the California Cryobank gave him in the 1980s: Donor 150. MORE

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 website 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 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 parking lot. In the 1980s, Jeffrey supplemented his meager income by becoming a regular sperm donor at California Cryobank. He was given an identifying number: 150. In a surreal moment, he recognizes himself as the unnamed central character in the story told on the front page of the New York Times. In time, Jeffrey comes forward to identify himself as Donor 150.

In this cascade of revelations seen in the film Donor Unknown, JoEllen corresponds with her newly discovered half-siblings, comparing what they have in common, and the ways in which they resemble one another. Nervous but curious, JoEllen wants to arrange to meet with Jeffrey, but some of her half-siblings are ambivalent. Danielle in New York is skeptical that she could have a meaningful relationship with Jeffrey. Rachelle, in Memphis, isn't sure she would want to meet him at all. Ryann and Roxanne, who live in California, have already visited him on their own.

In the end, JoEllen finds Fletcher, her 19-year-old half brother, who agrees to accompany her to rendezvous with Roxanne in the parking lot in Los Angeles where Jeffrey lives. In the end, it is a very modern family reunion among practical strangers who happen to share DNA. The journey raises questions about what makes us who we are, what makes a family, and what the brave new world of fertility technology means for our assumptions about both.

The Filmmaker

Jerry Rothwell is a documentary filmmaker whose directing credits include the feature documentaries Heavy Load, winner of the Audience Award at the 2008 Britdoc Film Festival; and Deep Water, co-directed with Louise Osmond and winner of the Grierson Award and Best Documentary at the Rome Film Festival.


Film Credits

The Siblings

JoEllen Marsh
Danielle Pagano
Fletcher Norris
Rachelle Longest
Ryann McQuilton
Roxanne Shaffer

The Donor

Jeffrey Harrison

The Parents

Lucinda Marsh
Joy Longest
Sue Norris
Cathy Fletcher

Filmed and Directed by
Jerry Rothwell

Produced by
Al Morrow
Hilary Durman

Executive Producer
Jonny Persey

Stewart Le Maréchal

For Naked Edge Films

Executive Producer
Jim Butterworth

Consulting Producer
Daniel J. Chalfen

Outreach Producer
Karen Gilchrist

Edited by
Alan Mackay

Max de Wardener

Sound Design and Mix
Vincent Watts

Senior Colorist
Mat Troughton

Sound Recordist
Rob Branch

Production Coordinator (New York)
Conor McCourt

Motion Graphics
David Chapman

Scientific Consultant
Allan Pacey


Sagat Guirey
Al Cherry

Ian Burge

Post Production Services Provided by
Met Film Post

Legal Affairs
Lee and Thompson

For Met Film

Assistant Producer
Vanessa Gibbes

Stuart Thomson

Production Accountants
Paul Leddington
Mikko Luukkanen

For Redbird Productions

Production Secretary
Jeannie Blumire

For Arte Geie

Heike Lettau
Claudine Planty

Commissioning Editor
Madeleine Avramoussis

Head of Programme Development and Events
Olaf Grunert

Commissioning Editor VPRO
Barbara Truyen

The New York Times headline
© 11/20/2005 The New York Times. All rights reserved.


"Sentimental Journey"
Written by Les Brown, Bud Green, and Benjamin Homer
Morley Music Co Inc (ASCAP)
All rights administered by Chappell-Morris Ltd.

"Blues Dream"
Written by Bill Frisell
Friz Tone Music
All rights administered by Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.


Reid Anderson
Carina Bordewich
Scott Brown
Ryan Harrington
Nicolette Howard
Tabitha Jackson
June Jones
Sharon Aviva Jones
Thomas Jones
Ryan Kramer
Wendy Kramer
Adella Ladjevardi
Guy Lavie
Mollie Marsh
Cara Mertes
Tina Milliron
Anna Miralis
Anna Mohr-Pietsch
Cappy Rothman
Carol Salter
Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Dorothy Smith
Robert Smith
Sandra Whipham
The Children of Donor 150 and Their Families

Funding Provided by

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program
Wellcome Trust
The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund
Screen South and the RIFE Lottery Funding Programme

Donor Unknown is a co-production of Met Film, Redbird Productions,
Arte GEIE, and More4, in association with VPRO.

Donor Unknown was produced by Met Film and Redbird,
which are solely responsible for its content.

© 2010 Donor 150 Limited. All rights reserved.

Should it be legal to buy and sell the means of reproduction? Should donors be allowed to be anonymous? What right do the children of donors have to know where they come from?


  • Silverdocs (AFI Docs) Documentary Festival
    Audience Award
  • Tribeca Online Film Festival
    Best Feature Film
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Should it be legal to buy and sell the means of reproduction? Should donors be allowed to be anonymous? What right do the children of donors have to know where they come from?