A recent French Canadian film, Starbuck, has been garnering awards, including the People’s Choice Award at the Calgary International Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s audience award for the festival’s best narrative feature. Click on the photo below or here for a subtitled trailer.
The comedy begins with 42-year-old David Wosniak, a grossly in-debt man child, as his girlfriend announces that she is unexpectedly pregnant and he is being sued in a class action lawsuit by 142 of the 533 children born from the sperm he donated 20 years earlier. The children in the suit want to know the identity of their biological father, known only by the pseudonym Starbuck.
David decides to find and spy on some of his children, now in their early 20’s, as they stumble through their hilariously odd lives, getting hopelessly sucked in along the way.
The film takes the premise to the extreme for the sake of comedy, but are the film makers also calling for tighter regulation and ethics considerations with their humor? Although there are currently no international regulations on the number of offspring that can be sired by any one donor, many sperm banks follow a self-imposed (and policed) limit on the number of samples sold to the public. To date, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who gathers and reports U.S. fertility statistics, does not track the number of offspring born from donor sperm. Sperm banks in the U.S. may or may not collect this information, but they are not required to report it to any agency.
The sperm bank we used in California offers a sibling registry to connect families that have used the same donor, but participation in the registry and reporting of offspring produced is voluntary. When we chose our donor from their list, we did not know how many offspring had been produced from that donor, but only whether or not other children had been conceived. At the time, we thought of the existence of half-siblings as a positive because that meant the sperm we were buying was viable and might give us good results, but it never occurred to us to be nervous about exactly how many half-siblings were out there.
I especially enjoyed this article, by Chris Knight of Canada’s The National Post, which compares the film’s main character to his nick-namesake, the famous bull, Starbuck, who sired more than 200,000 female Holsteins in a 19-year period, and was later cloned to continue the legacy.
Only time will tell whether this film will make it to my hometown for viewing, and whether the issue it raises will spur national and/or international regulation, but earning these awards, and thus expanding the film’s distribution and audience, will certainly up the odds. Let’s hope that talks of an English-language version of the film pan out.