A nine month shoot
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Will women one day father children?
The Globe and Mail
In the new Canadian film The Baby Formula, opening later this week, two lesbians become pregnant using sperm derived from each other’s stem cells.
The premise of the mockumentary may be fictional, but with the speed at which stem cell research is evolving, could same-sex human reproduction one day become reality? And should it?
Scientists have already taken the first baby steps toward realizing this brave new, and some would say controversial, world of conception.
Stem cells are like the body’s blueprint, giving rise to all the different cells that make up an organism, from the skin and organs to the brain, bone and blood. Harnessing them as factories to produce specialized cells to repair or regrow tissues is the great hope of regenerative medicine.
In 2006, Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University generated sperm from male embryonic stem cells that fertilized female mice and produced offspring. A year later, his team was able to derive primitive sperm from stem cells taken from the bone marrow of human men.
Since then, Dr. Nayernia’s group has been working on creating sperm from women’s bone marrow stem cells and is expected to report its findings within weeks.
“We are now publishing a paper describing the producing of human sperm in the laboratory,” he says. “It is male, but we have had some success with female.”
Dr. Nayernia says there are a number of reasons for pursuing the research – to produce lab-based sperm to help scientists better understand the genetics of these “germ” cells and a safe means of testing how they are affected by environmental toxins and drugs.
He says artificially derived sperm and eggs also could help researchers look for ways to protect the fertility of men and women undergoing cancer treatments.
As to the idea of a woman’s stem cells giving rise to sperm that could be used to fertilize another woman’s egg, “scientifically, in principle, it is possible,” says Dr. Nayernia, chair of the Stem Cell Biology Institute of Human Genetics at the university in Newcastle upon Tyne.
But Toronto stem cell scientist Andras Nagy isn’t so sure.
There would be several biological hurdles to overcome, he says. First and foremost, women’s DNA contains two X chromosomes, but no Y (male) chromosome.
“Without the Y chromosome, it’s just simply not possible,” Dr. Nagy says. “The other issue here is that females have two X chromosomes and the presence of two X chromosomes in a cell again [blocks] the sperm formation.”
Germ cells must also be able to undergo meiosis – the process of cell division that leads to sperm and eggs having just one set of 23 chromosomes, rather than pairs adding to 46, as found in all other cells. It’s not clear whether sperm coaxed from female stem cells could do that.
“So the bottom line is as far as the biology is concerned, that film is based on fiction,” Dr. Nagy says of The Baby Formula .
Leaving aside the notion of same-sex reproduction, there are some “legitimate scientific reasons” why researchers would want to create both human sperm and eggs from stem cells, says Tim Caulfield, a professor of health science and law at the University of Alberta.
For one, the technology would give scientists an unlimited supply of eggs and sperm for study, he says. At a practical level, it could allow infertile couples to produce offspring containing their own genetic material.
“Let’s say a man or a woman could no longer produce sperm or eggs for whatever reason, they could use the technology to grow sperm and eggs and then they could have kids.”
Being able to produce numerous eggs and sperm in the lab would also make it easier for couples at risk of passing on genetic mutations, such as those that cause Tay-Sachs or Huntington’s disease, to opt for in-vitro fertilization and to test embryos prior to implantation.
The ability to create eggs from stem cells may also allow a woman to conceive at a later age, when her natural supply has run out, he says.
But beyond the scientific feasibility, what of the ethics of bypassing the usual means of making babies?
“The biggest hurdle, I think, is how are you going to test this technology?” Prof. Caulfield says. “At some point, you’re actually going to have to start creating embryos.”
Those embryos would have to be allowed to develop to a certain point to determine whether they are healthy and do not contain genetic abnormalities as a result of their mode of conception, he says.
“From a research ethics point of view, that’s a major challenge.”
In Canada, at least, any discussion about spawning life using stem cell-generated sperm or eggs is a moot one. Current laws do not allow scientists to produce embryos by any means for the purpose of research.
Still, the mere idea of lesbian couples (or gay men using a surrogate mother) having a baby with their own genetic material is sure to horrify some people.
As the religious mother of one of the women in The Baby Formula says: “Who do you think you are, God?”
Yet Prof. Caulfield wonders if safety issues could some day be overcome, “is there anything inherently wrong with allowing a lesbian couple to give birth? I don’t know that there is. …
“I think we have to move beyond the sort of yuck response,” he says. “When we start regulating and curtailing technologies and setting up barriers, I do think we need to do it on a principle basis.”
It wasn’t that long ago that sperm donation and test-tube babies were thought disgusting by some, he says. Now they’re accepted practice.
“I think the yuck response is a good reason for caution and a good reason for reflection, but it’s not a justification for prohibition. …
“We do evolve. There is social accommodation that occurs and I think with a lot of these new technologies, that’s also going to be the case.”
Dr. Nagy, who saw The Baby Formula in a prescreening and “liked it very much,” says the film contains an important social message, even if the premise is fictional.
Stem cell research will push the boundaries of what is biologically possible and society will be faced with a host of ethical challenges that this revolution in science will engender, he says.
“It’s a very, very rapidly changing world and we really have to be aware of that,” Dr. Nagy says.
THE BABY FORMULA TV SPOT
The Baby Formula
Check out the article online here.
A WIFF director’s mock doc bucks the system
A text version of the article can be found online here.
Making Babies With Female Sperm
A text version of the article can be found online here.
Dunsmore, Campbell win with ACTRA
The veterans beat out the kids Friday night at the 2009 ACTRA Awards, which began with a tribute to the retro years of Gordon Pinsent, Bruno Gerussi, Jayne Eastwood, Mr. Dressup and Al Waxman.
Rosemary Dunsmore, best known for her star turns in Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea, picked up the best actress trophy for her work in Alison Reid’s low-budget indie movie The Baby Formula. Nicholas Campbell earned the ACTRA Award for best male actor for his lead role in the TV movie The Englishman’s Boy.
“Once I got over what I look like, I actually thought I was pretty good,” an emotional Dunsmore told her fellow thesps of her performance as a mother whose lesbian daughter has a baby with her partner, and without a man.
Dunsmore added the word “resourcefulness” kept coming up while she mused over her possible acceptance speech.
“It’s resourcefulness that we actors have. It’s scary to some people. It’s why people sometimes try to keep us down. But they also love us and want us. It’s because we have this wonderful resourcefulness, which is our humanity,” Dunsmore said.
Campbell, who beat out younger contenders like The Border‘s Jonas Chernick and 14-year-old Daniel J. Gordon of Nurse.Fighter.Boy, offered thanks to the cast and crew of the CBC TV movie, “and the miracle that is [director] John Smith.”
Other winners at the juried awards, which were hosted by Teresa Pavlinek, included veteran stunt performers John “Frenchie” Berger, Bobby Hannah and Dwayne McLean, who were honored with the ACTRA Toronto Award for lifetime achievement in stunt specialties.
Also, veteran comic and voice actor Jamie Watson picked up the best voice trophy for his work on the animated series Peep and the Big Wide World.
Watson said his voice-over work on the series was inspired by the voices of Billy Van in the 1970s classic The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.
“I listen to what other people have done in the past, and try to push it along,” Watson told the ACTRA gathering.
Building on the guild’s accomplishments both on Canadian film and TV sets and at the bargaining table was a dominant theme at the awards.
“As a small union, we did something that our big union in the States couldn’t achieve, and it’s tearing them apart,” said Peter Keleghan, winner of the 2009 ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence, in reference to the latest contract for Canadian actors, with a first-ever new media deal, that followed a 2008 strike.
The evening began with a montage of star performances in classic Canadian series and films like The Rowdyman, The Beachcombers, Black Christmas and SCTV.
Karl Pruner, who gave his final address as ACTRA Toronto president before handing over to Heather Allin, urged the rank and file to continue the “fight for Canadian drama.”
Check out the article online here.
First-Timer Alison Reid’s Baby Set For Summer Release
The Baby Formula, set for release in English Canada through Grindstone Media on July 10, is the first full-length feature from stuntwoman-turned-director Alison Reid and has an inspired story behind its conception. When Reid heard news that the two actresses from her 2006 short film Succubs, Angela Vint and Meghan Fahlenbock, were both pregnant at the same time, she saw it as a perfect opportunity to create a sequel to the short. That meant she had to develop a script, find a crew and film the movie all within 10 months – small feat.
She immediately got to work, hiring Richard Beattie, with whom she co-wrote Succubs, “to crank out a script.” She then shot sporadically for nine months, using a rotating roster of available crew.
“We did it as bare bones as we possibly could,” explains Reid, “and we were sometimes scrambling to get a crew together. Because it was shot during the course of their pregnancy, it was like the development period and shooting period of production were melded.”
The Baby Formula tells the story of a lesbian couple who conceive babies using their own stem cells — no men required. It was a subject Reid became interested in after reading an article about mice being impregnated through the use of artificial sperm. Although the film explores the science of baby making, Reid makes it clear that the story is really about human emotion.
“The movie starts out about the science, but it ends up being about the family and the emotion. We are really all the same and have the same wants and needs no matter how we get there,” she says.
The most intriguing aspect of this film is the way it manages to blur the line between fiction and reality. For instance, in the ultrasound scene, the actresses were looking at 3D images of their real babies. Because of moments like this, Reid was able to get very raw performances from the cast.
“The actors were dealing with real pregnancies, and they had real experiences to draw from. I definitely gave them full range to adlib. If you have good actors and you give them freedom to use that creativity, then you can get some gems. We had some priceless moements that were generated by giving the actors freedom.”
The film is produced Toronto’s Grindstone, which also has worldwide rights. It had its world premiere at the 2008 Montreal World Film Festival.
A pdf of the article is available here.
Actors nominate Baby, Nurse
Playback – Jan. 27, 2009
The Baby Formula and Nurse.Fighter.Boy earned multiple nominations for its cast as ACTRA Toronto on Tuesday revealed the picks for its annual awards.
Rosemary Dunsmore (St. Urbain’s Horseman) and Megan Fahlenbock (MVP) received nods for their performance in the comedy Baby, in which they play two women in love and desperate to have their own biological child. They are up against fellow female contenders Sarah Gadon (Flashpoint), Shauna MacDonald (Loving Loretta) and Nurse.Fighter.Boy’s Karen LeBlanc.
Nurse also snagged nods for Daniel J. Gordon and Clark Johnson in the category of outstanding male performance, pitting them against veteran Nicholas Campbell for the mini The Englishman’s Boy and Jonas Chernick of action series The Border — both of which aired on CBC. Joris Jarsky of the feature film Toronto Stories rounds out the nominees.
YTV’s animated series Ruby Gloom received two nominations in the voice performance category, for Emily Hampshire and Adrian Truss. Also nom’ed are Rob Tinkler for Cyberchase, Joanne Vannicola for Toot & Puddle and Jamie Watson for Peep and the Big Wide World.
Peter Keleghan will be honored with the ACTRA award of excellence at the Toronto ceremony on Feb. 20. Teresa Pavlinek of The Jane Show will host.
Meanwhile, Nurse.Fighter.Boy is set to open in Toronto and Vancouver on Feb. 6 through Mongrel Media, while The Baby Formula is tentatively scheduled for a summer release via Grindstone Media.
To check out the article online visit: http://www.playbackonline.ca/articles/daily/20090127/actra.html
PLAYBACK Aug 28, 2008: Link: http://www.playbackonline.ca/articles/daily/20080828/formula.html
The Baby Formula @ World Film Festival
It seems to be the festival of the documentary (or close enough facsimile) for me. The latest being a Canadian production about two lesbians who want to have a child, but without the help of a sperm bank, sperm or anything male. Confused? Read on.
Athena (Angela Vint – Lars and the Real Girl, Urban Legend) and Lilith (Megan Fahlenbock – Get Over It ) are a married lesbian couple who want to have a child. Only they do not want to have it the traditional way. They want to have a child that is biologically both of theirs. Athena works at a lab in which two scientists, Jim (Matt Baram – The Love Guru, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) and Dr. Oldenfield (R.D. Reid – Dawn of the Dead, Cinderella Man), have come up with a method of using stem cells and an egg to eliminate the need for using male sperm to get a woman pregnant. Athena is decided, initially, to be the one to carry the baby and she is impregnated.
Because they are the first lesbian couple, or any couple for that matter, to be impregnated this way a film crew will be following Athena and Lilith around at all times during their pregnancy. At first this goes well, that is until Athena finds out (on camera) that Lilith was so jealous of her carrying the baby that she got Jim to impregnate her using the same method. After initially being furious over Lilith’s betrayal, the couple work it out and things seem to be going smoothly. That is until they are forced to tell their families how they got pregnant. Athena’s family is Scottish and her mother (Rosemary Dunsmore – Cliffhanger, Total Recall) is a devout Catholic and Lilith was raised by two homosexuals who are also alcoholics. Needless to say the two families do not see eye to eye on anything. While all this is going on Athena’s father Karl (Roger Dunn – Owning Mahowny, Three to Tango) makes an announcement that upsets everyone.
This pseudo-documentary is filled with every kind of emotion you can name. Anger, humour, sadness, frustration, shock, love, and tension are all there just to name a few. What is really great about this Alison Reid (first film) film is that it is not neat and tidy. It is messy and unpredictable just like life. The couple seems to go from one trial to the next. Life is never simple. Just when you’ve gotten used to laughing out loud at the absurd type of humour in the film is when it hits you with a poignant moment that will have you choking back the tears. Like life you are never allowed to settle into a comfortable pattern with this film, which is part of the reason that makes it a lot of fun.
Watching a Canadian film like this made me appreciate the Montreal World Film Festival all that much more. In a Hollywood dominated film festival like Toronto a gem of a small film like this might get lost in the shuffle, but in Montreal it is given its moment to shine. Telefilm should be happy, the organizers of the World Film Festival should puff their chests out and the makers of this film should be incredibly proud.
BABY FORMULA A HIT AT WFF
By Patricia Bailey
The Toronto-based executive producer and distributor of a clever dramatic comedy about the world’s first lesbian couple to conceive children without men hopes its premiere at Montreal’s World Film Festival will garner international interest in the low-budget mockumentary.
“The film has lots of potential,” Grindstone Media principal Paul Zimic told Playback Daily shortly after The Baby Formulascreened. “It speaks to many different things. It’s about parenting and family. But it challenges traditional attitudes with humor. Let’s face it, it’s hard to get mad at a baby.”
The film tells the story of a married lesbian couple who want to conceive their own biological child. Much to the surprise and dismay of their extended family, they take a chance on an experimental scientific process and make sperm from their own stem cells.
Since its opening at WFF, The Baby Formula — made with a mere $275,000 — has charmed the Montreal media, with one journalist deeming it one of the festival’s best flicks.
Directed by former stunt person Alison Reid and starring Megan Fahlenbock (Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and Angela Vint (Lars and the Real Girl), the frequently hilarious film charts the couple’s dramatic journey, which is tracked by a documentary film crew and includes a brilliant performance by Rosemary Dunsmore as Athena’s very religious mother Wanda, who accuses the pair of trying to play God by hijacking the concept of immaculate conception.
The script is by Richard Beattie. Producers include Reid, Stephen Adams and James Mou.
“Often the first reaction people have to this film is that it’s anti-male because it’s two women having a child without a guy, but that’s not my intention,” Reid tells Playback Daily. “It’s really about two people in love. It’s normal that they want to have their own biological children,” explains the director, who based the feature on a short film called Succubus starring the same actresses.
Reid came up with the idea after reading an article on female-only reproduction in mice the 1990s. Zimic hopes interest in the “science” of same-sex reproduction will draw audiences. The production has posted related scientific articles on its website.
The Montreal World Film festival ends Sept. 1.
Life imitating art
26 Aug 2008
The lines between art, life, reality and fiction get good and worked over in The Baby Formula. In 2006, Toronto director Alison Reid made a short film called Succubus about a lesbian couple wanting a baby that was their true biological creation, i.e…. read more…
The Montreal Gazette, Friday Aug 22, 2008
The Baby Formula (Canada)
*** 1/2 Alison Reid’s faux doc is about two married Toronto gals who want to have their very own biological babies, just like straight couples. The results of this theoretically possible scientific miracle run to sharply observed comedy, with gales to domestic soap opera and gusts of melodrama and tragedy. Leads Angela Vint and Megan Fahlenbock mess art and reality by being actually pregnant, and strong ensemble acting puts this low budget charmer over the top.
Screens at Quatier Latin Monday at 7:20p.m., Tuesday at 2:40p.m., Aug. 29 at 7:20p.m. and Aug. 30 at noon.
PLAYBACK Aug 15, 2008: Link: http://www.playbackonline.ca/articles/magazine/20080818/baby.html
REID’S BABY TO ARRIVE AT WFF
By Leigh Stuart
The producer/director of The Baby Formula knows timing is everything as her feature enters the festival circuit.
Not only did Alison Reid shoot the film over the course of her lead actresses’ real-life pregnancies, but one of them actually went into labor when her character was scheduled to break water.
Now, the film will compete in the internationally stocked First Film competition at the Montreal World Film Festival this month, which exec producer Paul Zimic of Grindstone Media says should lure some international distribution opps. But participating at WFF nearly cost the production the chance to participate in Telefilm’s Canada Show Reel event in New York next month, where five-minute clips of nationally made films are shown to 50 top U.S. distributors.
“They wanted films that hadn’t been seen by the market,” Zimic explains. “But they let us come because they felt that we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to compete in Montreal.” The public funder has $135,000 in the film.
A follow-up to Reid’s short film Succubus, The Baby Formula tracks Lilith and Athena (Angela Vint and Megan Fahlenbock), who decide to use new stem-cell science to impregnate one another. While Reid consulted with stem-cell researchers to ensure the science was accurate, she ensured the dialogue and storyline, from Richard Beattie’s script, focused on comedy.
“It’s the only way to tell the story, really,” she says. “You can’t beat them over the head with the science of it all.”
Domestically, the movie, also produced by Stephen Adams and James Mou, is scheduled to bow on Superchannel in July 2009, and Reid says the theatrical release should happen beforehand in Q4 or Q1 2009.
“If this movie plays for one week in a major Canadian market and does well, then I think it has a definite chance to show in other theatres across the country,” Zimic explains. The team also has its sites on Sundance, Tribeca and European film fests.
Viral marketing is planned to try to bring in audiences. Zimic and Reid are blueprinting an online video campaign that will show their two pregnant leads singing and dancing to Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” while also developing an online blog to organically hot-topic discussion points including stem-cell research and fertility treatments. There’s no word yet on when the blog will launch, but given the film’s expert timing from the get-go, expect to see something soon.
Telefilm Canada finances the production of 10 English-language projects through the Canada Feature Film Fund – Montreal, April 7, 2008
Telefilm Canada announces that 10 English-language projects across the country will move forward through the selective and performance component of the national feature film production programs of the Canada Feature Film Fund, as well as the Low Budget Independent Feature Film Assistance Program and the Theatrical Documentary Pilot Program.
“It is exciting to see that 2008 is shaping up to be a strong year for English-language cinema. Our commitment remains true to financing high-quality works that engage audiences at home and around the world,” said Wayne Clarkson, Executive Director. “The decisions announced today once again have strong audience appeal and capture this country’s vibrant creative spirit.”
Low Budget Independent Feature Film Assistance Program
The Baby Formula (Ontario & Nunavut Region; Free Spirit Films Inc.; Executive Producer: Paul Zimic; Producers: Stephen Adams, James Mou & Alison Reid; Director: Alison Reid; Writer: Richard Beattie; Telefilm investment: $134,862). Two adventurous women in love are desperate to have their own biological child. They take a chance on an experimental scientific process and make sperm from their own stem cells. Pregnant with humour and unexpected twists, their journey ultimately confirms that all life is a gift and all families are crazy.