One woman's journey to give away a kidney raises thorny philosophical questions about acts of compassion


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BEST DOCUMENTARY - Atlanta DocuFest | AUDIENCE AWARD - Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival

Public Health Policy • Medicine • Mindfulness Studies • Philosophy • Ethics

Date of Completion: 2013 | Run Time: 69 minutes​​ | Language: English | Captions: Yes | Includes: Transcript & Study Guide | Director: Jan Krawitz | Producer: Jan Krawitz

PERFECT STRANGERS tells the story of two unique and engaging characters. One is Ellie, who embarks on an unpredictable journey of twists and turns, determined to give away one of her kidneys. Five hundred miles away, Kathy endures nightly dialysis and loses hope of receiving a transplant until Ellie reads her profile on an online website. Both women face unexpected challenges as their parallel stories unfold over the course of four years. The film explores the ineffable magnitude of Ellie’s gift and the burden of responsibility that accompanies it, for both donor and recipient. Intimate scenes with Ellie, Kathy, and their families reveal the complicated physical and emotional terrain of organ donation. PERFECT STRANGERS raises questions about what motivates an individual towards this act of compassion. Why are we unnerved by the idea of such an extreme gift? The film provokes the viewer to confront his/her place on the continuum between selfishness and altruism, inevitably asking, “Could I do this, and if so, for whom?”

Video Librarian | Kathy Fennessy
"Jan Krawitz's informative and suspenseful documentary toggles between two women in different states. Perfect Strangers underscores the need for more organ donors but also highlights the human capacity for beneficent, selfless behavior."

Education Media Reviews Online | Reviewed by Sue F. Phelps, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
Highly Recommended "Krawitz gives the viewer high quality audio and video with an intimate feel that merges professionalism and familiarity. She presents Ellie as an everyday hero offering the prospect of organ donation as a realistic and openhanded gift. Public libraries, high school libraries and academic libraries that support programs in psychology, health and human services would find this a worthy addition to their collection."

Library Journal | Reviewed by Beth Traylor, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libs
"A worthwhile addition to college and university classes in ethics and health sciences as well as donor drives and for the general public seeking information on the subject."

Stanford University | Valerie Miner, Professor and Artist-in-Residence, The Clayman Institute for Gender Research
“Thank you for sharing your splendid film yesterday at the salon. The film is such an achievement—beautiful and moving and provocative. I also appreciated your thoughtful and informative responses to questions from the audience. I heard lots of great feedback afterward.”

Reed College | Margaret Scharle, Professor of Philosophy
“Jan’s movie fit perfectly into my Introduction to Ethics syllabus. The course introduces students to three dominant normative ethical theories and I used Perfect Strangers as a provocative case study for testing these theories and their application. Several student evaluations noted the movie as a highlight of the course.”

Transplant Games of America | A. H., Living Kidney Donor
Perfect Strangers is a haunting portrayal of how an altruistic person comes to grips with the true meaning of charity; anonymous, selfless and with the faith that each one of us has the power to change at least one life and by extension the world."

University Film and Video Association | Allan Holzmann, ACE Emmy and Peabody Award Winning Director
Perfect Strangers is a stunning piece about love in ways that I’ve never imagined. The documentary plays like a feature film with characters that jump off the screen into your hearts. Krawitz’s storytelling simplicity is inundated some of life’s most challenging issues. Remarkable film, remarkable filmmaker.”

American Association of Kidney Patients | Jerome Bailey, Communications Director
“The American Association of Kidney Patients was so honored to have the movie Perfect Strangers shown at our national patient meeting in Las Vegas. The documentary tells the story of two women on a journey – one a life-affirming journey and the other a life-saving journey. The film touched the hearts and souls of many people in the audience and still today provokes thoughtful conversation.”

Stanford University, School of Medicine | Dr. Diana Farid, Clinical Instructor
“I was deeply moved by the film and happy to see the students engaged.”

Annaleigh Sage Bergman (Facebook post after PBS Screening)
"Everyone, you MUST see the documentary: "Perfect Strangers." It's such a heartwarming, uplifting doc about Eldonna (Ellie), a mother of three, who donated a kidney to a stranger… It's sincerely one of the most moving and informative documentaries I've ever seen."

Transplant Recipients International Organization | Monet Thomson, President, San Francisco Bay Area TRIO
“We had an incredible time at our last meeting. Filmmaker Jan Krawitz joined us and presented Perfect Strangers, her remarkable film about a woman who gave a kidney to… oh, just anyone who needed it. The film was an intimate look into one human life, human heart, and one human kidney – and at the effect of the donation on the lives of others.

Life Gift Dallas | Katy Portell, Program Coordinator
"Perfect Strangers is a beautifully composed film which follows the journey of a selfless living kidney donor in her search for a recipient. It showcases the uncertainty of the wait, the overwhelming joy of unexpectedly receiving “the call,” and moves audiences to understand what donation and transplantation can mean in the lives it touches."

Husson University | Nico Jenkins, Lecturer, Ethics and Philosophy Program
“The documentary asks each of us to consider why, if each of us has the power to help another, literally within each one of us, we do not make that happen.”

KRCC, The Middle Distance | Kathryn Eastburn
"It's a fascinating film journey with amazing footage of an actual organ harvest, tense and touching moments before and after, and through it all, the reassuring voice of Ellie who never loses her focus."

From the Heart Productions | Don Schwartz
"Krawitz tells this story of giving and receiving with standard-bearing production quality – along with an immeasurable amount of heart."

The Independent Critic | Written by Richard Propes
"...intelligently constructed and emotionally resonant documentary that will likely leave you examining both your heart and your head as the closing credits roll. Krawitz does an excellent job of making the complex issues examined more accessible and, in the process, she helps her audience examine the questions she raises while answering them for themselves."

The Clayman Institute for Gender Research | Leila Glass
"Along the way, the people Ellie meets are amazed by her choice; except her son, who says, 'I was not surprised at all.' In that understated moment, we glimpse that Ellie’s kidney donation is just one of many ways she has chosen to be a compassionate and giving person.

Valley News | Nicola Smith
"Everybody involved in the documentary gave Krawitz extraordinary access, partially because she lets the story tell itself[...]The result is a film that reflects on how people connect in the most extraordinary ways, in extraordinary situations."

Best Documentary | Atlanta DocuFest
Audience Award | Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Audience Award | San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
Honorable Mention | Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
Honorable Mention | University Film & Video Association National Conference

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
American Documentary Film Festival
SF DocFest
Heartland Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
ReelHeART International Film Festival
Dallas VideoFest
Chagrin Documentary Film Festival
Ethnografilm Paris
Thin Line Film Festival
United Nations Association Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
Southern Circuit - 6 public screenings in Louisiana and Georgia

Docs in Progress
Princeton University
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard
Lesley University
Reed College
Dartmouth College
American University
Dalarna University, Sweden
One Legacy
Husson University
Georgetown University
American Association of Kidney Patients National Conference
Transplant Games of America
Hunter College
Augusta University Transplant Program
Temple University
USC Medical School
14 Pews
Clayman Institute for Gender Research
American Public Health Association National Conference
Donate Life, Northwest
Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO), New York and Bay area screenings

America ReFramed - PBS National Broadcast

Jan Krawitz directs documentaries that explore eclectic topics. Her films have been exhibited at festivals in the U.S. and abroad, including Sundance, the New York Film Festival, Visions du Réel, Edinburgh, AFI Docs, London, Sydney International Film Festival, Full Frame, and SXSW (South by Southwest). Her latest film, PERFECT STRANGERS, follows an altruistic kidney donor on an unpredictable, four-year journey of twists and turns. It won the Audience Award at several film festivals and was broadcast in two successive years on the national PBS series America Reframed. Krawitz’s previous film, Big Enough, poignantly reveals the emotional and physical challenges faced by several dwarfs as they attempt to live in an average-sized world. The participants in this film first appeared in Krawitz's co-directed documentary, Little People, released 20 years earlier. Her documentaries, Mirror Mirror, In Harm’s Way, Little People, and Drive-in Blues received wide educational distribution, extensive press, and sizable audiences on national PBS. Jan's short film Styx is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Little People was an Emmy nominee for "Outstanding Individual Documentary" and Krawitz and her co-director were featured on NPR’s All Things Considered when it premiered at The New York Film Festival.

Krawitz has had one-woman retrospectives and guest lectured at the Portland Art Museum, Hood Museum of Art, Rice Media Center, Austin Film Society, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. She has lectured internationally at conferences, universities, and film festivals, including Princeton, Hunter, Dartmouth, Radcliffe, Oxford University, Vassar, International Film School (Cologne), Beijing Film Academy, Wake Forest, the American Film Institute, among other venues. She has twice been selected for the Southern Circuit -- screening her films and lecturing at venues in South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Krawitz is the recipient of artist residencies at Yaddo, Docs in Progress, and the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy. She was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and is currently a voting member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Krawitz was a Professor in the MFA Program in Documentary Film at Stanford where she taught for 34 years.