a documentary short by Christina Sunley and Vicky Funari
1985 / 35 minutes  /  color
Produced on ¾” NTSC video, available as digital file or streaming

“The lesbian baby boom has broadened the definition of the ‘nuclear’ family… Alternative Conceptions looks at a single parent and a couple at the forefront of this reproductive revolution.”  San Francisco Bay Guardian


Alternative Conceptions was filmed in the early 1980’s, when open lesbian and gay parenting was a pioneering social phenomenon.  At the time, artificial insemination and sperm banks were offering new hope to infertile heterosexual couples, and lesbians seeking to become parents seized upon this new opportunity.  This highly informative film confronts and clarifies the controversy that at the time surrounded donor insemination for lesbians.  April and Susan, a New York City couple, are mothers to two children conceived through anonymous donor insemination.  Mary, owner of a Long Island lesbian bar, conceived her child with sperm from a gay male friend.  Through the choices and experiences of two lesbian families and the perspectives of medical, legal and social services professionals, Alternative Conceptions documents a historic moment in the evolution of gay and non-traditional families.  The out-of-the-ordinary physical arrangements, the legal entanglements, and the down-the-road dilemma of children coping with their parentage are key issues of lesbian parenthood candidly addressed in this film.   

Filmed during the first years of the AIDS crisis, the film is made all the more poignant in consideration of the subsequent social and political transformations engendered by that crisis, as well as by the great strides towards equality for gay families taken in ensuing decades.

Filmmakers’ Statement

When we made this film, the phrase “lesbian mother” seemed to many like a contradiction in terms – perhaps almost as much to us, as young queer filmmakers, as to the mainstream world.  But to the pioneering lesbians across the U.S. who were choosing motherhood through donor insemination, the phrase described a natural and important part of their lives.  With Alternative Conceptions, we wanted to explore a choice that we imagined we would face down the road:  to parent or not, if so how, and what would it mean for us as members of the LGBT community?

Two major historic processes cast a new light on our now 30-plus-year-old documentary:  First, given the stigma that gay parents faced at the time, we could barely imagine that within our own lifetimes gay marriage would be legalized and gay families would begin to be accepted into the mainstream of American life.  The women in our film seem even more heroic to us now than they did in 1984, when they shared their lives with us, because they paved the way for these changes.

Second, as we were making the film, the AIDS crisis was beginning its deadly sweep over the gay community.  It changed everything:  the atmosphere of infinite possibility that had pervaded our coming-out years was replaced by a struggle to survive and by a new solidarity between gay men and lesbians.  The epidemic made the health information in our film outdated.  Because of this, we withdrew the film from circulation:  since it was made just as the cause of AIDS was being identified, the film had not been able to answer health questions surrounding the use of sperm from potentially HIV-positive donors.  It took some years for those answers to become clear.  We felt it was irresponsible to have a film out in the world that did not address such a major question about donor insemination for queer families.

See the Film

Alternative Conceptions is currently not in distribution.  Please contact Producer Vicky Funari directly for information on how to see the film.


Key Credits

Producers: Christina Sunley & Vicky Funari
Director & Editor: Christina Sunley
Camera & Production Manager: Vicky Funari
Musical Score: Andy Therber


Vicky Funari, Producer/Camera/Production Manager: Vicky Funari is a documentary filmmaker, editor, and teacher.  She produced, directed, and edited the documentaries Maquilápolis [city of factories] (2006) and Paulina (1998), co-directed and edited Live Nude Girls Unite! (2000), and produced, directed, and edited the experimental short skin•es•the•si•a (1994).  Her films have screened at many prominent festivals, including Sundance, Locarno, Rotterdam, and Tribeca.  Awards include San Francisco International’s Grand Jury and Audience Awards; broadcasts include PBS, HBO/Cinemax, and the Sundance Channel.  Funari is a Guggenheim Fellow and a MacDowell Colony Fellow.  She is a Visiting Senior Lecturer in Visual Studies at Haverford College, where she teaches filmmaking and helped design the college’s new Visual Studies Minor.  Other work includes editing Julie Wyman’s documentary Strong! (2012), programming the Strange Truth film series (2009-2017), producing the collaborative web documentary Troubled Waters: Tracing Waste in the Delaware River (2014), and directing Haverford’s Tuttle Summer Arts Lab (2016).  She is currently in post-production on Pool Movie (working title), about aquacize and healthy aging.

Christina Sunley, Producer/Director/Editor: Christina Sunley was born in New York City, raised on Long Island, and has lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She attended Wesleyan University, got her BFA in Film from New York University, and received her Masters in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.  After early work in filmmaking, including producing and directing the documentary Alternative Conceptions, she transitioned to a career as a fiction writer and a development director in the non-profit sector.  Sunley’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals.  Her first novel, The Tricking of Freya, published in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press, was a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller.  Booklist called it “astonishingly accomplished… a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries.”  https://www.christinasunley.com/


“Explores critical issues:  Why choose alternative insemination?  Should a child have the opportunity to know his or her biological father?  Just how are lesbians creating new kinds of families?  Watch and find out.”  San Francisco Sentinel

“An excellent springboard for discussion for classes or community groups.”  New York Native

“Thanks to advances in reproductive technology… the lesbian baby boom has broadened the definition of the ‘nuclear’ family… Alternative Conceptions looks at a single parent and a couple at the forefront of this reproductive revolution.”  San Francisco Bay Guardian

“An interesting and innovative film.”  San Francisco Bay Times


Selected Screenings

  • Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 1986
  • San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, 1987
  • KQED Viewpoints broadcast, 1991

Press Kit

Stills coming soon.