(USA, 78 min.)
Dir. Hannah Olson
2020 has delivered its fair of crazy stories. However, no doc this year quite has a jaw-on-the-floor ick factor like Baby God does. This true crime/#MeToo investigation, directed by Hannah Olson and with Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing among its producers, is further proof that truth is often stranger than fiction. Olson digs into an unsettling story in which a Las Vegas fertility doctor impregnated an incalculable number of women when they entrusted him with their care. What follows is a troubling tale of violated trust, transformed lives, and a portrait of a monster seen through the eyes of some of his many offspring.
The offender in question is Dr. Quincy Fortier (pronounced a butchered For-teer or the francophone For-tee-ay depending on the speaker). The Las Vegas physician, the film tells, had a reputation for being a miracle worker when it came to fertility. In some cases, hopeful couples had their stalled dreams of becoming parents realised with a quick trip to his clinic. Sometimes, a couple sought help with artificial insemination, but Fortier would secretly pull the old switcheroo with the husband’s sample. Other times, a woman might have visited for a routine check-up and go home with a bun in the oven that she neither planned nor wanted. The latter point shouldn’t make light of the situation, but rather convey the scale of it. Baby God is a story of a mad doctor who felt entitled to inject his seed into any unsuspecting woman he could. This engrossing film makes the skin crawl.
Olson finds a perfect character for her inquiry by zeroing in on the story of Wendi Babst. The former detective tells Olson how she discovered that the man she long considered her father was not actually part of her biological family tree. Babst, who really knows how to spin a yarn dramatically to accentuate the details of a case, explains to Olson how she tried charting an Ancestry lineage. After using a seventy-buck DNA test, she popped in her results to discover a plethora of high matches—very surprising since she didn’t have any siblings or cousins.
Tracing the family tree and the recurring name Fortier, Babst finds the troubling secret from her past. On one hand, the news is greatly disturbing as she learns that half her DNA comes from an unknown man who violated her mother. On the other hand, the news is cathartic because it explains why she differs so much from the parents who raised her. This analytical thinker has her father’s genes in one regard, and they fuel her quest for truth. As Wendi encounters other offspring produced by Fortier’s crimes, spanning decades of fertilizations made on the sly, she finds closure and new horrors in equal measure.
Baby God asks how institutional and systemic frameworks could enable Fortier’s behaviour in the first place. Former colleagues of Fortier (who died in 2006) explain how male students and doctors routinely used their own semen for tests and samples. They helped pay for school by, er—donating. One interviewee admits to fathering many children of his own—albeit, not by the same means as Dr. Fortier—as his own kids discovered half-siblings produced with samples that were used when the lab needed them. While Fortier knowingly impregnated countless women without consent, the other doctors in Baby God don’t actually seem to know what happened to their semen after they discharged it in the lab. This question may be fodder for another documentary, although it’s one element that is unfortunately unexplored in a doc that otherwise explores an awful situation from all angles.
The collective stories nevertheless speak to the scale of Dr. Fortier’s seed sowing as the doctors consider the number of women and babies who passed through their care. At the same time, Olson elicits an acknowledgment that bygone patriarchal attitudes contributed to a culture of ignorance for the responsibilities that doctors had to their female patients. Moreover, these violations have obvious effects on the children they produced. The implications of Fortier’s crimes, his abuse of authority, and his breach of trust are especially relevant as he escaped charges until the day he died.
Baby God brings audiences into the lives of a handful of Americans with Fortier’s DNA. The revelation of their biological father’s identity is traumatic for many of them; however, as with Wendi, the discovery puts a missing piece in the puzzle of their lives. Unexplained eye-colours, book smarts, and pudgy noses exonerate milkmen and afford closure. At the same time, though, Wendi and her biological siblings learn that digging into the past uncovers awful truths. Dr. Fortier’s misconduct is but one facet of his predatory behaviour. Each character faces a complete reckoning of the self as he or she confronts the nature/nurture debate and Dr. Fortier’s influence on their life ahead.
Olson’s fast-paced film keeps the twists coming but respects the subjects’ agency with each reveal. Fortier’s offspring are permitted to break the news to their parents off camera with interviews to follow. Olson acknowledges that lives are reframed throughout this study and she understands that an intimate, clear-headed conversation does a film better than a dramatic reveal. At times too wild to believe, yet always too compelling to deny, Baby God provocatively bears the fruits of its labour.
Baby God is now available on Crave.