When Scottish filmmaker Sue Bourne learned that outside of beer, bacon and Lego, one of Denmark’s biggest exports was donor sperm, she was intrigued. When she discovered that single women were the biggest group of customers, she knew she had to make a film: “For me that was a really new development – women in their thirties and forties, effectively looking like they were turning their back on men and just going it alone. So in a way it was also about the breakdown of traditional family life. They didn’t need men any more. And that I thought was terrific.”
She was particularly intrigued by the business model: “You can literally, I discovered, decide to have a baby one week, go online and choose your sperm, have it shipped over in a frozen canister in your kitchen, and do self insemination, without talking to a single person. That really is a brave new world.”
It’s a topic pitch perfect to launch the newest series of the BBC’s Modern Times – single films from talented filmmakers which reflect life in modern Britain. Bourne embarked on a quest to find a handful of British women happy to have their stories told. It proved to be a tough ask:
“There’s lots of it going on, but they weren’t all gagging to be on telly, that’s for sure. You don’t get much bigger than this in terms of deep personal decisions on your own. And do you want to open up to the world and tell them what you are doing? No, you don’t. So we talked to endless women, fascinating conversations, absolutely riveting – and nobody really that keen to take part. In a way for me that was critical because it meant women who did agree to take part were really brave and strong.”
In the end, Bourne did find four subjects to follow, but, this being the uncertain land of observational documentary, found the filming process to be an emotional rollercoaster – which mimicked the journey the women themselves were on. “The whole thing – I’m just an emotional rag,” she says. The production didn’t help by being so tied to Denmark, “the most expensive place in the bloody world. It was really complicated.” she says. “I’ve never made a film like this before. It was fascinating – it was very stressful – but I like it. I liked the fact that I couldn’t control it. It took me into this world which I didn’t know about, which is trying to get pregnant. And it’s just so brutal. It’s about somebody’s desire to be a mother, and what they have to go to achieve it. It’s incredibly moving.”
Watch Modern Times’ The Vikings are Coming, 9pm Thursday 29 January, and on BBC I-Player
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