Spermworld (2024)


Spermworld Review

“Donating sperm makes me feel good. Maybe it makes me feel wanted, and needed. Worth something to somebody else,” says Stefan, one of the subjects of “Spermworld,” the new FX on Hulu documentary that delves into the landscape of unregulated babymaking and just why prospective parents have sought out these unconventional solutions.

Oppenheim’s previous film, “Some Kind of Heaven,” about The Villages in Florida was another journey into a unique community. Both films share a common thread: They feature richly colorful camerawork and no narrator, allowing the subjects to tell their own stories about their sometimes quixotic lives. The same applies to his next venture, “Ren Faire,” a three-part HBO series premiering this summer about the Texas Renaissance Festival and its charismatic founder.

It was through former New York Times reporter Nellie Bowles who is married to ex-New York Times columnist Bari Weiss that Oppenheim learned about the world of prolific sperm donors. Bowles had been interested in finding a donor because she was in a relationship with another woman and they were looking, and they weren’t quite happy with the options that they were finding at the sperm banks.

The article that came from her quest, which she worked on with Oppenheim, was titled ‘The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand,’ but while working on it he realized there might also be a documentary here.

A network of Facebook groups have popped up because there is a lack of inventory and traditional sperm banks are so costly, these groups allow women to ask for donations directly from men who want to help them conceive. “I started seeing all these people women and men advertising themselves, and I started sensing that behind each post there was a story,” he said about the New York Times-produced doc.

Some are clearly doing it for sexual reasons whether via brief N.I., or natural insemination, i.e. the sex in the film’s opening scene, or through artificial insemination. Some become attached to the idea that they’re helping women, similar to giving blood, while others like the film’s subject Ari Nagel like the idea that they’re fathering dozens or hundreds of children around the world.

The movie primarily follows three donors and a number of prospective mothers who allowed Oppenheim to tag along with his camera: Nagel, a teacher who travels the world to visit the kids he has helped create and remain in touch with them as best he can, though his mother is against it; Stefan, a newly divorced man who wants to become better friends with his recipients, like Rachel, a young woman living with cystic fibrosis; and Tyree, who loves helping people but whose partner is having trouble getting pregnant.

Ultimately, he said, it’s about “How do we make families? How do we choose families? What does family even look like?” And there are legal issues that can arise around these informal donations they’re not as tightly regulated as conventional sperm banks.

Nagel is said to have fathered at least 138 children. The film does not say whether this has any moral or genetic implications. But Nagel’s mother certainly thinks so she appears on screen loudly declaring her opposition to the whole enterprise. “Part of my job as a filmmaker is I really try not to express any sense of judgment. I love being around him and I relate to him in many ways,” Oppenheim said.

What strings together Oppenheim’s expose? “I am interested in these kinds of settings,” he explains. “That could be Florida with The Villages, like the dream of retirement, or in sperm world that’s the pursuit of family. Then ‘Ren Faire,’ it’s a different question, but it’s really about power and proximity to power and finding that the kind of things that underpin the fantasy, the feelings of inadequacy or loneliness.”

He believes his documentary approach can lead to narrative features. “I want people in films to be narrators of their own lived experience that’s kind of equivalent to watching a fiction film.” In fact, he says he has been working on a narrative script he is excited about and hopes to shoot soon.

Sometimes when I’m making documentaries, “It feels like I’m working with actors because I’m letting them into the process,” he says. “So hopefully going back and forth between the two worlds won’t feel as daunting.”

Watch Spermworld For Free On Gomovies.

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