Julia Ivanova’s 2007 documentary Fatherhood Dreams was an ensemble piece, but over the years, her thoughts would regularly drift back to one of the participants more than the others.
Fatherhood Dreams followed three Vancouver families with gay dads as they built their families — via surrogacy, adoption and co-parenting — shortly after Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex unions. Ivanova trained her camera on newlyweds Randy and Drew as they adopted baby Jack, and Scott as he connected with a surrogate to have twins Ella and Mac.
But it was little Zea — the four-year-old daughter of Stephen and lesbian couple Coreen and Wendy — who imprinted herself most on Ivanova.
When the filmmaker asked Zea if she ever found it confusing to have two moms and one dad, the four year old scoffed at the idea and replied, “I’m the luckiest ever because I have the most parents.”
“She was the most adorable child who ever lived on the surface of the Earth,” says Ivanova now. “She was the smartest. Even then, I wondered what she would be like in 10 or 12 years.”
That lingering question ultimately led to My Dads, My Moms and Me, Ivanova’s follow-up to Fatherhood Dreams, which screens at the Rio Theatre Nov. 30 as part of the Reel Causes film series.
Ivanova wanted audiences to find out what happened “to these children that have been raised by same sex parents, and how it has affected [the children] in terms of how they see themselves and society.”
The feature-length documentary follows the three families as they enter a new stage of parenting: the teen years, and its associated bounty of challenges.
“The first film, everyone was young,” says Ivanova. “The future was open. We didn’t know what was going to happen. There was a lot of optimism. Now, we come back to the middle of life. Some things have happened and these things can’t be changed. The children aren’t toddlers anymore. Raising them is almost over in some of the cases.”
In some ways, the families seem transformed beyond recognition. Randy’s sunny optimism is all but gone. Adorable toddler Jack is now a moody teenager who doesn’t want to appear on camera after the first day of filming. “I appreciated that he wasn’t masking his moods or his opinions,” says Ivanova. “He was very straightforward with me. But that was challenging because I had zero control.”
Scott and the twins have moved from Vancouver to Halifax. Scott is now married to a man who has legally adopted the twins and the pair are living their best lives as dedicated hockey dads. “I admire Scott’s humour and joy and ongoing pleasure of being the father,” says Ivanova.
Little Zea is now teenaged Zea, and she and her moms and dad now wrestle with profound health challenges. But Ivanova says the challenges have united the family. “That was absolutely unexpected to me how the depths of their relationship and their love for each other, and their commitment to each other, has been solidified by the health problems,” says Ivanova.
Ivanova was an adoption coordinator in the late 1990s, and a proponent for same-sex parenting long before same-sex unions were legalized. “Any parents who love their children and do whatever they can to facilitate the successful development of their child are wonderful parents, so for me it wasn’t a question,” she says.
Fatherhood Dreams premiered during a time when many Canadians still held doubts that queer people could be parents. While attitudes about same-sex parenting and unions in Canada have become decidedly more progressive in the intervening years, the same can not be said for many other parts of the world, according to Ivanova.
“For Canada, this film will be just a film about parenting, but for other countries, this is a groundbreaking topic,” says Ivanova. “Right now, this topic is very important for other parts of the world, and so this film is more for Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America — countries that have not yet developed any sort of trust in same-sex parenting.”
Expect a follow-up to My Dads, My Moms and Me to hit theatres and streaming services in 10 to 12 years. “We can’t just drop it,” says Ivanova. “I think that was the approach the families had when I told them about the second film. They feel the social responsibility.”
My Dads, My Moms and Me screens at the Rio Theatre Nov. 30. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Ivanova and one of the dads. Tickets at reelcauses.org.
Watch trailer below: