‘Our Father’: Netflix film uses fertility doctor’s own words to explain his sickening secret
Documentary feels like a horror film as it outlines how Dr. Donald Cline inseminated patients with his own sperm, resulting in dozens of children.
Seems as if the vast majority of true crime limited drama and documentary series these days fall into one of two categories:
1. Shocking murders that roil a tight-knit community and destroy families, e.g., “The Thing About Pam,” “Under the Banner of Heaven,” “The Staircase” and “Candy.”
2. Long-form exposés shining a harsh spotlight on individuals who were in a position of influence and betrayed the trust of friends, family and associates, as in “The Big Conn,” “Inventing Anna,” “WeCrashed,” “The Dropout” and “Bad Vegan.”
Netflix and Blumhouse Television present a documentary directed by Lucie Jourdan. No MPAA rating. Running time: 97 minutes. Available Wednesday on Netflix.
The Netflix documentary “Our Father” falls into the latter category — and it’s difficult to imagine a more egregious case of someone in a position of authority taking advantage of innocent victims in such sickening fashion. It’s only fitting that Netflix Originals teamed up with scary-movie factory Blumhouse Productions (“Paranormal Activity,” the “Purge” movies, “Halloween Kills”) for this project and that the opening shot of this documentary looks like something out of “The Shining,” with a slow tracking shot down a narrow hallway with mustard-yellow walls — because this is the very definition of a horror story, detailing the monstrous atrocities committed by one Dr. Donald Cline, a renowned Indianapolis-based fertility specialist in the 1980s who secretly inseminated patients with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent, resulting in at least 94 children.
Director Lucie Jourdan paints a vividly disturbing picture of Cline, using his own words and actions against him, but wisely and compassionately makes “Our Father” as much about the victims as the infuriatingly evil Cline. With all of the audio coming from recorded conversations, interrogations and court hearings, Jourdan combines archival footage with the occasional re-creation and some powerful interviews, most notably with victims such as Jacoba Ballard, who purchased a home DNA kit and was stunned when the results indicated she might have seven biological half-siblings. Ballard contacted those matches, and the ensuing ripple effect of communication and further DNA testing uncovered the shocking truth: that though Cline told patients the sperm samples were from their partners or anonymous donors, depending on the situation, he was in fact masturbating even as they were next door in a procedure room, and was using his own sperm literally dozens of times.
One victim says she felt she was raped 15 times by the man she called her doctor and confidante. Another talks of how devastated her parents were when they learned the man she had known as Dad her entire life wasn’t her biological father. Yet even as his abuse was uncovered, Cline remained detached and unrepentant. We hear him on tape saying, “I don’t look at these people and consider them my children.”
Astonishingly, there were no laws on the Indiana books that allowed for Cline to be nailed for a serious crime. He was charged with making false statements to the attorney general, and the judge fined him $500 and gave him no jail time. Thanks in large part to the tireless work by some of Cline’s victims, Indiana passed legislation in 2018 making it illegal to make illicit donor insemination, but as of yet there is no federal law.
“I want zero relationship with him,” says one of Cline’s victims. “I may share half of his DNA, but he’s not my father and he never will be.”