Reel Affirmations 2008
Review by Kristina Campbell
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/18/2008, 2:30 PM
Shorts presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
Norwegian / English
REEL AFFIRMATIONS PAIRS two nearly hour-long documentaries on gays and parenting, one with a Norwegian dad who has hired a U.S. surrogate and the second showing a Canadian lesbian couple who run into multiple obstacles in their quest to be moms. The title of the program is a bit misleading: The films themselves aren’t so much about gay parenting as they are about becoming gay parents, but they are captivating documentaries in their own right.
Daddy’s Love () follows Kenneth, a young, single gay man whose lifelong wish to parent conflicts with Norway’s adoption laws. He is reluctant to co-parent because of fears that the mother could take the child from him, so he pursues a more expensive — but also more secure — route in hiring a surrogate from America’s heartland. Kenneth’s parents, who back his quest both emotionally and financially, play a key role in the story, and his mother travels with him to Kansas to be present for the birth of his son, Isaiah.
The film looks at the loaded issue of surrogacy and shows Kenneth’s ambivalence about the emotional toll on the birth mother, her husband and her son from a previous relationship. The mother seems resolute: She’s having a baby (with a donated egg) as an act of kindness for someone who can’t have a child of his own. Her husband, who has no biological children, reveals a bit more of the personal struggle involved; he supports what his wife is doing, but he also clearly longs to experience her going through a pregnancy with a child of their own.
Sensitive to those issues, Kenneth is also beside himself with excitement — and some trepidation — at the thought of bringing his newborn son home with him to Askim. The documentary follows him from his home, where he’s fixing up Isaiah’s nursery, to Kansas for the birth, and back to Norway where he’s greeted by his father and supportive friends. Director Mette Aakerholm’s documentary debut is a heartwarming, emotional look at one man’s determination to build a family, and she does a fantastic job of sharing the personalities in the film with viewers. We feel like we can imagine what sort of dad Kenneth will be, and we develop a respect and appreciation for the birth mother’s grounded, generous nature.
Mommy, Mommy () would be a much stronger offering if there weren’t an annoying voiceover of one of the mothers reading a script of their process. The film would flow so much better if it was all natural dialogue, but it quickly becomes tiresome to listen to the stilted voice telling us some of the background of the story between scenes of the women, Linda and Mona, jumping through many hoops to try to have a child.
That drawback aside, Linda and Mona share a touching story of their failed attempt at insemination, followed by a relentless pursuit of a baby through various avenues of adoption from their home in Quebec, both within the province and elsewhere in Canada, as well as across borders. There are roadblocks aplenty along the way, but the women’s tenacity pays off in an unexpected way and it is, ultimately, an inspirational story.