[SXSW 2023] CONFESSIONS OF A GOOD SAMARITAN -- Another Wonderfully Unconventional Documentary From Penny Lane
Review by Sean Boelman
The SXSW lineup this year features several documentaries in its lineup from some of the best documentary filmmakers of today, one of which is Confessions of a Good Samaritan by Penny Lane (Hail Satan?, Nuts!). It’s another impressively-made, stunningly insightful documentary the likes of which only Lane could make.
In the film, Lane tells her own story of her decision to donate one of her kidneys as an altruistic donor — meaning without knowing the recipient — and how this sends her on a journey to discover the true meaning of altruism. Like much of Lane’s work, it’s both funny and unexpectedly insightful, showing just how amazing a nonfiction film can be.
The interviewees that Lane speaks with throughout are varied in nature and experience, from other altruistic donors to doctors and even some recipients who have benefitted from altruistic donorship. However, most fascinating is how Lane tells her own experiences with an overwhelming transparency and honesty.
There is no denying that this is Lane’s most personal film yet, and it’s all the better for it. At a certain point, Lane’s own hesitation to be in front of the camera even becomes an important part of the story. Unlike many documentaries in which the filmmaker inserts themself as the subject, Lane’s approach feels entirely natural.
There’s also an educational element to the film that is going to be eye-opening for many viewers. As usual, Lane asks probing questions that cut deeply to the core of the issue. In the film, Lane doesn’t explore just organ donorship — but also the meaning of altruism as a whole, asking the viewer to reflect on their own misgivings.
Of course, Lane’s documentaries are known for incorporating humor exceptionally well, and Confessions of a Good Samaritan is no exception. While one normally wouldn’t think of a kidney donation as a humorous story, Lane finds the comedy in the situation, living up to the mantra of “laughter is the best medicine.”
The film has some very interesting technical flair, including the use of computer screens to tell the story, and a few impressionistic sections here and there. Although these aren’t quite as distinctive as some of Lane’s other films, they still give it a buoyancy that is a big part of what makes the film tick.
Confessions of a Good Samaritan is one of the most impressive nonfiction films of the year thus far, but that’s no surprise considering that it’s directed by one of the finest documentary filmmakers working today. It’s another shining spot on Lane’s already phenomenal filmography.
Confessions of a Good Samaritan is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.