Donor Unknown

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Donor Unknown
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJerry Rothwell
Produced byJim Butterworth
Daniel J. Chalfen
Hilary Durman
Stewart Le Marechal
Al Morrow
Jonny Persey
StarringJoEllen Marsh
Jeffrey Harrison
Music byMax de Wardener
Edited byAllan Mackay
Release date
  • 3 June 2010 (2010-06-03)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Donor Unknown is a 2010 documentary film directed by Jerry Rothwell and produced by Al Morrow and Hilary Durman. A 21st-century tale of identity and genetic inheritance, this film tells the story of a sperm donor and the children who want to meet him. It follows JoEllen Marsh as she goes in search of the sperm donor father she only knows as Donor 150.

Plot outline[edit]

JoEllen, now 20, has always known her family ‘wasn't like other families'. She grew up in Lander, Pennsylvania in rural Warren County[1] 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.[2]

Jerry Rothwell's motivation for making the film[edit]

Director Jerry Rothwell explains the motivations behind the film: "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."[3] It was pitched at the 2007 Sheffield Doc/Fest MeetMarket.

Television broadcast[edit]

It was broadcast on 28 June 2011 on the British channel More 4.[4]


Donor Unknown has been well received by critics and film goers alike. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it a 'amusing and sweet-natured documentary' although he felt that there might be a deeper, more complex story to tell about the siblings' relations with each other and Harrison's own life.[5] While Philip French, from The Observer, called it an 'engaging' film.[6]


It won the Silverdocs Audience Award which is the result of audience votes throughout the festival in Silver Spring, Maryland.[7] The film also won the Tribeca (Online) Film Festival Award for Best Feature Film.[8]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2012-03-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
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  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 November 2012. Retrieved 2011-10-14.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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