‘Future People’ Review: Connected by Biology, Bonded by Love

Discovering a legion of half siblings could be the springboard for a best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult. Yet such is the surreal story of “Future People: The Family of Donor 5114,” a documentary (streaming on Discovery+) in which dozens of children from around the country learn they were conceived using the same sperm donor.

The siblings, many of whom once appeared in a New York Times Magazine photo essay, found one another online. As kids and preteens, they began messaging and video-chatting, comparing physical traits, hobbies and family structures. Many shared full lips. Some played soccer or ran track. Eventually, they began arranging group trips where the children, often alongside their moms, could hang out in person.

The director Michael Rothman films the siblings over eight years, attending the periodic meet-ups to chronicle their evolving union. He focuses on a select few, including the eldest of the group, whose approaching 18th birthday marks the first time any of them can request contact with their mysterious shared donor.

But these profiles of the children, built on casual interviews and at-home footage, sometimes feel surface-level. The subjects can seem remote, and especially in their trying teen years, tend to default to reticence or clichéd expressions. Rothman does not probe or engage with this awkwardness, nor does he include his own interview questions in the movie. His camera becomes an outsider — less a facilitator of understanding than a barrier to it.

More revealing are the sequences self-recorded by the siblings on their computers, where they speak candidly and radiate emotion. Sharp insights also come from their mothers, many of whom are single parents or in lesbian partnerships. Although “Future People” struggles to break through to the kids, an engaging family portrait emerges nonetheless — of a group clustered by biology, but bonded by a singular shared experience.

Future People: The Family of Donor 5114
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on Discovery+.

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