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IDFA 2020: In His Image

20 November 2020

An extended right                                                                         In His Image by Tami Ravid

Tami Ravid's In His Image is a film about the fundamental (and gained) right of prospective grandparents to bring their grandchildren into the world after the death of their beloved sons.

The dilemma in Tami Ravid's In His Image is as fundamental and heartbreaking as it gets. Do grandparents have the right to a grandchild, even after the death of their son and before any conception was ever achieved? Can his semen be used to continue the family line?

Semen, we are told at the beginning of the film, remains potent for up to three days after the death of its host. If it is removed during these three days it can be stored and potentially used in future IVF treatment. For years, parents in Israel campaigned for the right to use it for such insemination.

"I first read about this phenomenon in 2007 in a Dutch newspaper," says filmmaker Tami Ravid. "I am also a fiction filmmaker and I have different dossiers on my desk. I cut it out of the newspaper and I put it with my other ideas for fiction films."

Ravid duly forgot about it until six years later when she was in Israel and heard about women who were successful in their claims to use the semen. Not only had they won, there was the evidence in the form of toddler grandkids, born from their sons' seed. "So then I thought, no this is not fiction - this is documentary," says Ravid. "As we know well, documentary is stranger than fiction."

In telling her story, Ravid finds three sets of parents whose sons died or were killed during military service, and whose semen was saved and stored. Ludmilla, who was born in Ukraine and whose son German died while serving in the Israeli army, fought for 15 years so that his sperm could be used to impregnate a woman (Irena, whom we meet in the film).

Shaked, the son of Haderet and Ron, died in a training accident. They collected his semen but Shaked's late wife found love elsewhere, and had children instead with her new partner. Yet Haderet remains a vocal advocate for (grand)parental rights and is not afraid to advise mourning relatives of the need to act quickly after their son's death. 

Meanwhile, Inbal is a woman of 40 desperate for children who undergoes IVF using the semen of Matan who died of cancer ten years before. She got to know Matan's parents two years ago and they have since become firm friends. The second half of the film follows these protagonists, as well as Inbal's own mother, as they suffer the traumatic ups and downs of the treatment process.

"I was with her full of hope, and of course my first idea was to follow one pair of parents and one woman, and then go with them on this journey and end up with a baby," says the director. "But I understood that in this big process of death [of an offspring], all of a sudden there may be this small process of letting go of expectations... She deserves a baby, she wants a baby, but as I said life gives you different things to deal with, so this is her story."

Jewish law underlines the "overriding principle of the sanctity of human life", we are told, which informed the court's decision in 2015 to rule in the favour of the grieving parents. Further quotations from the Tora reinforce the case, such as the injunction to "fill the earth and govern it."

Ravid admires Haderet's perseverance and unwavering commitment to her campaign of education on the law. Whether her counsel is given at the least or most opportune time, ie on hearing of the death of a police officer, is moot and irrelevant. It is heartfelt and delivered with nothing other than the best of intentions.  

"Her mission is to save someone else, even if right now it seems she may be making things more difficult for them, but for her it is about saving them. Those are the moments that I admired, looking at her taking matters into her own hand, because fate is also about control. When you lose control over your life you lose everything, and these people are trying to gain back some kind of control."

For further reading: 
-> SEE NL Magazine Online, November 2020 / IDFA Doc issue 
-> Line-Up Dutch Docs At IDFA 2020 
-> Watch: Showreel Dutch Documentaries IDFA 2020

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