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SUNDANCE 2021 Indie Series

Series review: Seeds of Deceit

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- “Jaw-dropping” doesn't even begin to describe the revelations in Miriam Guttmann's three-episode series, screening at Sundance

Series review: Seeds of Deceit

Now here comes the next proper binge-worthy experience: over the course of three episodes, Miriam Guttmann dissects the Jan Karbaat case, and good luck trying not to finish it all in one sitting. In Seeds of Deceit, shown at Sundance as part of the Indie Series programme, we come back to what, just a few years ago, made the tabloids choke, when a respected fertility doctor was discovered to have inseminated patients with his own sperm. Karbaat, who passed away before his trial had even started, has spawned scores of children – who, as shown here, really do look eerily alike. But there is yet more to the story.

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Also to his own story, as he certainly emerges as quite a complex figure, with some of his patients pointing out that, unlike most of his contemporaries, he would treat unmarried or gay women as well, and others recalling strange “You are looking nice down there” comments, painful inseminations or worse. With his “legal” family opting to sit this one out, he remains the big unknown, but Karbaat's deception didn't end with his own unwanted participation in the process – making up his supposed donors’ “passports” or diluting his own supply with water, he felt untouchable for a long time. Once again, here we go – a person in power abusing those in a desperate, vulnerable position. Always with a smile, though, asking for a picture of the baby once it's born for his personal collection.

Some of it is enough to make you queasy, with shots of cream floating in somebody's coffee and the image of sperm slowly covering the entire globe easily taking the top spot. But when Guttmann stays close to the people, she never disappoints. Given the subject matter, and its many, many grim revelations – “You think you have ended up in a bad movie,” says someone, and yes, Roger Corman would have a ball with all this – it's a wonder that she manages to drift off into some rather uplifting territory once the focus switches to “Karbaat's children”: people who, once confronted with the news, prefer to create a WhatsApp group, rather than focus on the trauma, taking a different route to most of their still-reeling mothers. There is something very moving about the fact that a welcoming community has grown out of something so troubling, and for some, discovering their biological roots actually brings a much-needed sense of belonging.

Then again, what really constitutes a “real” parent? Are biological connections that much stronger than care and attention, given to a child year after year? “Jon Bon Jovi could be my father,” jokes one of the “kids”, but it's up to you to decide who you are, it seems, and whatever you might find out doesn't necessarily have to define you forever. Which, frankly, sounds like a plan. Especially when, as pointed out rather brutally, “some men want to watch the world burn and some want to cum all over it”.

Seeds of Deceit was produced by Monique Busman and Michiel van Erp for De Familie Film & TV (Netherlands), and the world sales are handled by Dogwoof.

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