The realities of a gay couple arranging for a child are as difficult as they sound in documaker Johnny Symons’ “Beyond Conception: Men Having Babies.” Complicating the picture is that the men’s baby is to be delivered by lesbian surrogates, who themselves are trying for a child of their own. Pic serves as a precursor and companion to Symons’ 2002 “Daddy & Papa,” about the issues of gay men as fathers, humanizing a topic often treated impersonally in the media. While longer fest version continues on the circuit, a 65-minute edition is scheduled to air July 20 on the Discovery Health Channel.
Displeased with the adoption process that yielded their first child, San Francisco-based Bruce Gilpin and Paul Moreno have decided to have a child with the help of surrogates and an egg donor. The pair is matched with couple Jennifer and Jenna Franet (also in S.F. and with two kids care of Jennifer’s former, hetero, marriage).
Symons follows the couples wherever events take them, which proves to be a smart approach. Perhaps because of its destination on cable, the mood (and music) tends to be upbeat to a somewhat unreal degree, and the idea to chain events together with a countless string of “two weeks later” inserts should have been dropped.
The science and the personal changes that develop over several months — starting with Gilpin and Moreno going from feeling happy with the Franets to sensing some doubts about their birth partners — grabs interest. However, in a Q&A session following the Outfest screening, the fact that the two couples now are leading separate, disconnected lives was addressed, and it’s unfortunate that was not included in the film.
The fascinating process of the combination of both men’s sperm with eggs donated by a young woman named Jade, and then the insemination into Jennifer’s uterus to produce a pregnancy, is consistently framed inside the human drama.
Issues raised include discomforting eugenics matters: Gilpin and Moreno select Jade for her physical and mental attributes, but are momentarily troubled by her family history of breast cancer. At the same time that Jennifer is struggling to conceive — the first try fails, the second works — Jenna is trying for her own conception, which highlights gay and lesbian couples reliance on technology to realize their dreams of parenthood.
The high price of such technology is never mentioned: Pic is thus stronger at the beat-by-beat account of this single birth rather than in addressing the larger topics it naturally raises.
Vid lensing is TV-ready pro and slick, with Symons’ multiple camera crews often put to good use. Editor Terry Schwartz pulls the various strands together with discipline. Discovery Health Channel broadcast is titled “Men Having Babies: Beyond Conception.”