In 2014, an Indianapolis woman Jacoba Ballard took a 23andMe DNA test, which allows users to trace their ancestry. From this one test, Ballard made the bizarre discovery that she had around 90 half-siblings. The revelation quickly snowballed until it was discovered that, starting in the 1970s, former fertility doctor Don Cline had been secretly using his own sperm without consent to impregnate his patients.
In her new documentary “Our Father,” director Lucie Jourdan follows Ballard’s quest to expose Cline, a story she Ballard pitched to several news outlets before finally managing to get it publicized.
“It blows my mind,” Jourdan told Variety when asked why the so many journalists passed on Ballard’s story. “I meet Jacoba. I’ve read the letters that she wrote to all the news outlets at the time. And to me, it was wildly compelling, and I’ve spoken to Angela at length, the reporter in the story, and she felt the same way, which is why she picked it up. I have no idea. I wish I could speak to it. I can’t. All I know is that there was no question in my mind, the story needed to be told.” Of course once the length of Cline’s deception was revealed, the news spread across the nation.
“Our Father’s” spoke to Variety deputy editor Meredith Woerner as part of Variety‘s video series Doc Dreams, presented by National Geographic. During their conversation, Jourdan talked about her decision to recreate the doctor’s office visits from 70s inside Cline’s office and where the former doctor inseminated his patients, swapping out his semen for the specimen they provided. According to Jourdan, the recreations were a way to put a face to Cline’s crimes, as the doctor has managed to evade giving information to his victims regarding his crimes.
“The siblings have always wanted information from Cline and he is stonewalled them,” Jourdan said. “He gives them nothing, and he really hides behind this cloak of anonymity. And when I thought about this film, I wanted to put a face to it because he wasn’t doing them that service. He was giving them nothing. And I didn’t want to help him in that process. If you didn’t see a face, if you didn’t see an actor, he would be getting away with it even more. But if I put a face to it, it’s shocking.”
That decision would require casting an actor to play Cline. And Jourdan made sure to get the siblings consent before she went through with any decisions regarding the filmmaking.
“It was very important that the siblings, I have their blessing, and I had spoken to Jacoba prior to casting and said I wanted to bring this face in,” Jourdan said. “And I wanted her to interact with this actor, because a lot of the time, these people aren’t actors, Jacoba is not an actress. And to have her relive a moment is going to be quite difficult. But if I recreate the moment exactly as it was, and I cast someone who looks so much like Cline, then there’s this opportunity for her to experience it again with her in the power chair. She told me when she met with Cline the first time, she had all these things she wanted to say, but it didn’t come out.”
Once Ballard agreed to doing the reenactments, shooting them proved to be a cathartic experience, according to Jourdan.
“It was fascinating because there was no audio while we shot them,” Jourdan said. “And the actor was so good, and I had prepped him based on things Jacoba had told me had happened at that meeting. And they were having this dialogue at the table. And she had told me afterwards that the catharsis for that was, it was just really incredible for her because she got to say the things that she could never say. And so there was this playing with that blur of real and not real and getting her involved in it, which I think was pretty awesome.”
As for Cline himself, his case has not been reopened. Jourdan’s documentary goes into detail as to how the government has failed the siblings, with a lawyer stating that these horrific actions are not legally considered rape in the state of Indiana. As of 2017, Cline has only been charged with obstruction of justice for lying to his attorney.
“Our Father” was released on Netflix shortly following the news that the Supreme Court issued a preliminary vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. The news reignited conversations regarding reproductive rights, one that Jourdan believes the film fits into very clearly.
“This film was about consent.” Jourdan said. “It’s about women having autonomy over their body. To have a man come in and decide what he wants to do with them and to do it because he thought they were absolutely desperate… The fact that was never even thought about, he took that choice away from them, I think it is absolutely what’s going on. Choice is being taken away. And I hope that audiences see what consent means. There’s so many facets to it and I think women should absolutely be able to make the choices for their body that they want.”
“Our Father” is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the full conversation above.