Confessions of a Good Samaritan

105 mins.
Directed by Penny Lane
Click a time to buy tickets.
Thu, 2/29

Director Penny Lane joins us in person for a post-screening conversation.

This screening is free to Amherst Cinema Members.

Director Penny Lane’s decision to become a “Good Samaritan” by giving one of her kidneys to a stranger—someone she's never met, and never will meet—launches her on a provocative, intimate, and unexpectedly funny quest to understand the nature of altruism.

CONFESSIONS OF A GOOD SAMARITAN is a provocative inquiry into the science, history, and ethics of organ transplantation, asking an ancient question in a whole new way: who is your neighbor, and what do you owe them? We’ve all heard versions of this question, but how often do we really stop to think about its meaning?

“Good Samaritan” kidney donation is a term used to describe the exceptionally rare circumstance in which a person is moved to donate a kidney, not to a friend or a loved one, but to an unknown stranger. The small number of people per year who make this choice often describe it as a “no-brainer”: I could have a relatively low-risk procedure, and save someone’s life? Obviously! With more than 100,000 people in need of a kidney, slowly dying on dialysis, for the Good Samaritan donors, the only question is, “Why isn’t there a line of people out the door waiting to give a kidney?”

But, for the vast majority of people, making a “Good Samaritan” donation is incomprehensible, or suspicious in some way. Why do they do it? Do these people just want attention? What are they compensating for? This mystery is what sets Penny off on her quest to understand the science of altruism, the ethical controversies surrounding organ donation, and her own motivations.

Along the way she collects a library of rare, often strange, archival films documenting the history of organ transplantation. Accompanied by a quirky cast of charismatic scientists, surgeons, ethicists, and other donors, Penny documents her experience through “confessional” diaries and intimate footage of her own surgery and recovery. All of these elements are assembled into a fast-paced, funny, personal and philosophical collage.

Penny Lane has been making award-winning, innovative nonfiction films for over a decade. This includes six features—including prior Bellwether selection NUTS!—and over a dozen short films. A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Lane has also received grants and awards from the Sundance Film Festival, Cinereach, Creative Capital, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Tribeca Film Institute, Wexner Center for the Arts and many others. Penny has been honored with mid-career retrospectives at the Museum of the Moving Image, San Francisco DocFest, Open City Documentary Festival and Cinema Moderne. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit