“Baby God,” a disturbing new documentary about a fertility doctor who used deceit and rape to impregnate women with his own sperm, is largely set in Las Vegas, where the OB-GYN had set up practice.
But the film, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on HBO, has a number of local connections.
Dr. Quincy Fortier, the movie’s chief villain, graduated from the University of Minnesota’s medical school in 1945. One of his biological children, who ends up playing a key role in the story, lives in Walker, Minn., a three-hour drive north of the Twin Cities.
And then there’s Hannah Olson. The film’s director graduated from Hopkins High School and developed her love for film as a teenager, shooting her own music videos to Arcade Fire songs and making shorts around Lake Minnetonka.
Olson, 33, first learned about Fortier while working on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” and decided he would be a good target for her debut documentary.
During her research, Olson was startled to learn that Fortier did more than lie to his patients about swapping in his own sperm. About halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that Fortier molested at least one of his own stepchildren.
“I didn’t know that going in,” Olson said in a phone interview. “I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he had all these accolades and I was raised to trust doctors. It wasn’t until deep into the process we discovered this bombshell revelation.”
The rape led to Fortier’s stepdaughter being sent to a home for unwed mothers in Minnesota, where she gave birth to Jonathan Stensland, who was adopted by another family and currently lives in Walker.
Olson shot her interview with Stensland in April 2019, arriving at his home during an unseasonal blizzard.
“It was kind of a haunting drive,” she said. “It felt dangerous because the roads were so icy. We had to stop on the way to buy snow boots. It was weird because I grew up around there, but I was seeing the landscape anew. I had a totally different perspective.”
In the segment, Stensland talks at length about learning about the family secret as well as the time he confronted his biological father/step-grandfather. The film also includes conversations with eight other people fathered by Fortier, including retired detective Wendi Babst, whose doggedness is on display throughout the film.
Olson didn’t have the chance to interview Fortier, who died in 2006 at the age of 94. But she has some theories about what drove her subject to commit such sinister acts.
“I think it was some kind of combination of ego and power,” she said. “Maybe it was a crime of convenience.”
Olson is already at work on a second HBO documentary, but she’s determined that the project after that will be set in Minnesota. Don’t expect light fare.
“I’m currently with my brother, who also grew up in Minnesota, and he always wants me to do a sports documentary, something that will make people feel good,” she said. “But I’m drawn to subjects that get at some kind of moral gray zone. I like a good mystery. I like what gets at the underbelly of human nature.”