In the fifth and final episode of our Creative Nonfiction Film podcast season, Penny Lane discusses her experiments with form in Confessions of a Good Samaritan. This interview was conducted at HotDocs 2023.
Don’t miss a single episode.
On episode 5 of the podcast season, Penny Lane discusses her new documentary film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan, about her journey to becoming an anonymous kidney donor and its emotional repercussions. While educating us on the kidney donation process and why it’s important, the film is, above all, a portrait of the filmmaker in crisis. It is equally a film about making a film about donating a kidney.
Lane uses many different techniques to get us inside her stressed and complicated brain: inviting us onto her desktop, showing us interviews with herself, documenting the donation process with cameras, and even curating archival footage and interviews to reflect the state of mind of the ‘character of Penny Lane’ as she develops through the film.
Penny Lane has been experimenting with film form throughout her career, from the archival footage film Our Nixon, to the animated documentary NUTS!, to the tongue-in-cheek look at the Satanic Temple in Hail Satan? through seemingly conventional talking head interviews, to found footage in The Pain of Others, and beyond. Lane weaves almost all of these techniques (and a few more!) into Confessions of a Good Samaritan, offering a thoughtful, educational, and funny look at the complicated feelings that come with doing good in the world.
Listen to the whole Creative Nonfiction season
In this 5-episode podcast season, Alex Heeney interviews four creative nonfiction filmmakers about their latest films and how they are pushing the boundaries of what documentary and nonfiction film can be.
Listen to all the episodes to discover how filmmakers are pushing the bounds of documentary cinema in 2023.
Show Notes for Creative Nonfiction Podcast with Penny Lane on Confessions of a Good Samaritan
- Discover all of our resources on the films of Joachim Trier
- Pre-order Existential detours: Joachim Trier’s cinema of indecisions and revisions
- Read our review of Penny Lane’s NUTS!
- Read an excerpt from our interview with Penny Lane on NUTS!
- Read our capsule review of Listening to Kenny G
- Watch our masterclass on Creative Nonfiction with Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane
- Get your copy of the ebook Subjective Realities
- Get your copy of the ebook In their own words: Documentary Masters vol. 1
- Discover more Seventh Row writing on creative nonfiction film
- Become a member to listen to our entire archive of podcasts, including our past episodes in which we discuss creative nonfiction films.
Get our ebooks on documentary filmmaking and creative nonfiction film
Dive deep into the work of Frederick Wiseman and Gianfranco Rosi and read our initial interview with Penny Lane on creative nonfiction by getting Documentary Masters in a bundle with Subjective Realities: The art of creative nonfiction film.
Never miss an episode again. Become a member.
The Seventh Row Podcast spotlights under-the-radar, female-directed, and foreign films. All of our episodes are carefully curated. Indeed, we only discuss films we think are really worth your time and deserve in-depth critical analysis.
Our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. In addition, many of our new episodes are for members only.
For exclusive access to all of our episodes, including all of our in-between season episodes, become a member.
Related Episodes to the podcast Penny Lane on Confessions of a Good Samaritan
- Ep.12: Penny Lane on Hail Satan? (Members’ Exclusive): Penny Lane discusses her 2019 film Hail Satan
- Ep. 40: Dead Mothers (Members’ Exclusive): We discuss Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs, a film that expertly gets inside the head of its thoughtful characters. We also compare it to Mouthpiece and Stories We Tell.
- Ep. 122 Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (Free): Joachim Trier’s breakout hit is also a film that is very good at getting us inside the protagonist’s mind amidst an existential crisis.
- Ep. 99: Creative Nonfiction with Penny Lane and Carol Nguyen
Related Episodes on creative nonfiction film
- Sundance 2023 Ep. 7: Best of the fest + documentaries Fantastic Machine, Is There Anybody Out There, and more
- Ep. 123: Sundance 2022: Creative Nonfiction
- Ep. 105: Subjective Realities: The art of creative nonfiction film: We discuss the making of the ebook Subjective Realities and what you can expect from the book
Listen to all the related episodes. Become a member.
All of our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. Additionally, we have many bonus episodes and in-between season episodes which are also only available to members.
For exclusive access to all of our episodes:
Host Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row. Find her on Twitter @bwestcineaste.
This episode was edited, produced, and recorded by Alex Heeney.
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode was AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Alex Heeney 0:22
Welcome to the fifth and final episode of the creative nonfiction season at the seventh row podcast. I'm your host Alex Heeney, editor in chief of seven threads. We're ending the season where our whole thinking about creative nonfiction film begin with Penny Lane. I'll be talking to Penny about her experiments with documentary form and her new film Confessions of a Good Samaritan. The film is a trip inside Penny's brain as she goes through the stressful process of anonymously donating her kidney, and investigates why kidney donations are necessary. The film screened at Hot Docs in Toronto, the occasion for this interview. As you may have noticed, today's episode has been a few weeks delayed. That's because Toronto has had incredibly bad air quality throughout June and really July including the worst air quality in the world on some days. Thanks to wildfire season, which is hitting us here in Toronto for the first time. It pretty much knocked me on my back. And it was also important impossible to record something without very very loud HEPA filters in the background because I had every single one I own running on high was yeah, it was intense. Anyway, if you're just joining us now for the creative nonfiction season catch up with the first four episodes. The first episode is an introduction to the term creative nonfiction film, and the framework for thinking about this genre that we had seven throw developed in our ebook subjective realities, the art of creative nonfiction, you can get that book at subjective realities.com. In the last three episodes of the season, I interviewed three of the best creative nonfiction filmmakers working today. They each discuss their latest films as well as how they approach making boundary pushing documentaries. In Episode Two I interviewed Sophie finds about her new film Four Quartets, and how she approached documentary theatre production of the same name by her brother on film. In episode three, I interviewed quebecois filmmaker Philippe Falardeau about his new four part documentary series, Lac-Megantic: This is not an accident about the 2013 rail disaster in Quebec. He talked about subverting the conventions of the true crime dock and how his background as a fiction filmmaker helped him to make his first documentary. That show is now actually streaming free on CBC gem in Canada, so you can actually catch up with it now. In episode four of the season, as a counterpoint to my discussion with Sophie finds about recording her brother Ralph Fiennes's production. I talked to Sam Green about his new film 32 sounds, which is in a format he describes as live documentary, and it's something that he has helped pioneer. So you can just look back to the season on your favorite podcast, or you can check out our website at seven dash rho.com/creative nonfiction pod and you can find all of the episodes there in the show notes. I will start by introducing Penny her work and Confessions of a Good Samaritan a bit more, and then I'll play you my interview with Penny. I'll close the episode with some recommendations of where to look next, if you're interested in the kind of filmmaking in Confessions of a Good Samaritan, as well as how to keep exploring creative nonfiction filmmaking more broadly through seventh throw. The first time I interviewed Penny was way back at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. And I was talking to her about her animated documentary nuts. And that's when she described her work to me as creative nonfiction. And I've been using the term ever since to describe nonfiction films that aren't your typical info dump documentary, but perhaps play with your perceptions including about where the line is between fiction and nonfiction. And that was something that was really key and nuts. That interview is in our ebook in their own words, documentary masters volume one. It's in the section of the book on creative nonfiction film, which also includes an interview with our episode two guest. So we find on her film, Grace Jones, bloodline and BAMMY. There's also an interview with Joshua Oppenheimer on the look of silence and its magic realist soundscape. Over the years talking to Penny has continued to shape my and every Wanted seven throws thinking about creative nonfiction film. Back in 2019, Associate Editor rep party and I talked to penny on the podcast about her film Hail Satan, which was her first film ever that had talking head interviews in it, but she did them of course with a twist
Alex Heeney 5:23
you can listen to that interview in Episode 13, which is now a members exclusive episode, so become a member to have a listen. we last talked to Penny Lane in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic on our lockdown film school, we now know that at the time she just donated her kidney a few months before and was in fact in the middle of making Confessions of a Good Samaritan. That 2020 interview with Penny ended up inspiring our next documentary ebook, subjective reality is the art of creative nonfiction film, which you can get it subjective realities.com subjective realities features a transcript of the interview to frame the book. Penny Lane has been experimenting with film porn throughout her career she worked with archival footage in her film or Nixon. She also made a hilarious, fast moving animated documentary with nuts. And then that film actually deliberately plays fast and loose with the truth. Just like its protagonist, who is a charlatan from the 1800s who yes sold goat testicle transplants as a cure all for sterility actually happened not that it actually worked but yes actually happened. On the surface her tongue in cheek look at this they can temple inhale Satan may seem like a more conventional documentary, given its talking head interviews, but Penny use this convention specifically to lend legitimacy to the people in the Satanic Temple that are often seen as ridiculous her 2018 Found Footage documentary The pain of others is about women suffering from a mysterious illness in 2021. Penny premiered listening to Kenny G, which maybe seems like a conventional music documentary on the surface, but it has this sort of witty irreverence of all of Penny's films and is really a delight. Even if you hate Kenny G. In Confessions of a Good Samaritan, Penny weaves almost all the techniques from her previous films and a few more into a thoughtful educational and funny look at the complicated feelings that come with doing good in the world at some personal expense. Confessions of a Good Samaritan is about her journey to becoming an anonymous kidney donor and its emotional repercussions. While educating us on the kidney donation process and why it's important the film is above all a portrait of the filmmaker in crisis is equally a film about making a film about donating a kidney. Penny uses many different techniques to get us inside her stressed and complicated brain, inviting us onto her desktop, showing us interviews with herself, documenting the donation process with cameras and even curating archival footage and interviews to reflect the state of mind of what she describes as the character of Penny Lane.
Alex Heeney 8:29
I'm going to play you my interview with Penny Lane. Now she starts by talking about why she wanted to make Confessions of a Good Samaritan
Penny Lane 8:37
a sense that there was like a nerve here that that was like very interesting, and would be interesting to like, kind of explore more that that pushed me over the edge, you know, it it was really more that then it was like, Oh, I'll save lives. Like I mean, I sort of take that as a given that, you know, raising the profile of altruistic organ donation will in fact lead to more altruistic organ donation. I know that's to be true. But that's not really like it's sort of summarizes and it's like sort of summarizing the film very quickly. But like, if it's, you know, as like, that's the thing, it pushed me over the edge. And like maybe it was, but I also think it was just so artistically interesting to me. And probably that's what pushed me over the edge was that I saw that there was like this really unique film that someone should make, and that I was very well positioned to make, and I should probably do it myself. And that seemed interesting to me. But I do want to say just like one last thought on this, which is that if the film makes anything clear, it should be that like, the reasons we give for doing things like probably should always be seen with a great deal of suspicion. I don't I don't think we know why we do what we do. But our brains are very good at coming up with like plausible explanations, but I don't think our brains are good at coming up with like true explanations of why we do what we do. So, you know, if any, if the film is about anything, it's probably mostly about that. The mystery of like, why we do what we do, and our attempts to kind of like, backfill those choices with explanation, like after the fact, I think,
Alex Heeney 10:19
yeah, like there's this interesting sort of relationship in the film about like, performativity, both, like the idea of our people are altruistic don't donors, because they want to perform virtue. I mean, like, you kind of make a joke about that in the film like you. So what if I'm doing it for the film. But then on the other hand, you have yourself in the film, and you're directing yourself, and you have to sort of like, perform Hi, I'm Penny Lane. And there's like that sequence at the beginning of the film, where you highlight that where you're like watering some plants, and you're asking your DP or camera person, like, Is my hand in an okay place? So like, I'm just wondering about how you thought about, like those moments, and, like, you know, it puts you in a weird position of like, You're aware that you're performing, but then you're like, literally performing in front of the camera, but also, you're trying to be honest.
Speaker 2 11:14
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think that like, you know, that I really didn't want the film to be too self reflexive, in a way, because like, the danger of it is just that it becomes like too, navel gazing. And so we kind of made this rule in the Edit were like a scene where Penny is like neurotically going over her own and feelings had to be basically followed by a scene, where we remind the viewer that there are people dying, who like need kidneys, you know what I mean? Like, so like, there's a structural thing where like, my Pert my personal like neurosis sort of escalates throughout Act One, and act two, really, throughout Act Two, largely, but that it has to, it had to be like, matched with this escalation of the sense of the gravity of people dying needlessly. And so you know, so that was kind of part of the way I tried to think about it was that like, I just didn't want it to like, kind of devolve too much into like, Penny makes a film without making a film about herself, making a film, you know, it just like, didn't seem like that. It felt like that would be like a big mistake. But so much of what the experience of giving this kidney ended up being was giving this kidney and making a film about it. And that was really kind of the truth of the experience, you know. And I do think that like, you know, I was also just trying to, you know, in three or four different ways at the beginning of the film, to help people who don't know who I am, who aren't familiar with my work or my name, that like, I am the filmmaker, like I am the built, like, I didn't want to take it for granted. That like everyone would get the filmmaker is the director is the subject is the narrator. Like, I just had to like, make sure we hit that a few times in the first 20 minutes. Before we could move on to maybe more interesting things.
Alex Heeney 13:06
Yeah, well, I mean, like, the tone at the beginning of the film is also like very, I mean, self deprecating, but also like tongue in cheek like it reminds me. I mean, it's a Penny Lane film. Like, it feels like very much a new like the wheelhouse of like, you know, what you what you're doing and nuts and what you did with? Yeah. Oh, God, I just had a brain fart, but the kidney Jenny G
Unknown Speaker 13:31
Alex Heeney 13:36
And I love that moment where you're like, who would make a movie about this? And then and then that's when you put directed, but anyway,
Speaker 2 13:43
thank you. Yeah, I mean, I also like was trying to think like, what would be and I do think like, you know, the more the older I get, the more clear I feel on like, my artistic or my mission, or like, my artistic statement, my artist statement, you know, you just sort of look around and you realize, like, we're all doing different things. Like there's a point at which you just realize, like, being a documentary director, like doesn't tell you that much about like, what kind of an artist someone is, you know what I mean? And like, you know, I used to do this exercise with my students back when I was a professor, where we had to do these artists statements, you know, in the more advanced classes, and the way that we'd start that process is I would print out a piece of paper with like, every verb I could think of, that would be like a thing an artist might want to do to their audience. You know, so like, inspire you know, challenge uplift comfort, confuse horrify delight, entertain, like just educate. Imagine like that how long that list really could be. It could be like 20 pages of verbs, but we would just do this one, you know, legal size paper and I asked him to circle 10 that they felt like really resonated with their, their, their their ideas, and even before you're like a really accomplished or real really like experienced artists, you're going to have 10 that you gravitate to. And they're not going to be the same 10 as any other person in the class, like, you know, and so that's kind of like, unlock the key to like starting to unlock, like, what makes you individual. And so of course, doing that I would do it myself, or I at least imagine that I was doing it myself. I'm not sure I ever actually circled the words in the piece here. But I was like, oh, yeah, like I wanted to light and entertain. I also want to, like, provoke, and challenge and so and surprise, like the word surprise, I was like, oh, yeah, like surprise is like a big thing for me. And this is a long winded way of getting to your point, which is that I was thinking, like, what would be the most surprising way to start the movie? Well, the most surprising way to start this movie would be to meet me. And to get a sense that like, I think I've just made a terrible mistake. And like, I don't want to be doing this at all. And that like I am, like, miserable right now. And I was like, that's a good like, surprising beginning. It's not what I would expect from like a documentary about altruistic organ donation, you know, and so, it felt true, but it also felt surprising. So that was kind of how we landed on that tone for the beginning. And I also just didn't want people to think like this was going to be like a lecture, where this like person who really thinks very highly of herself, like is like coming to tell you like how to be a good person, I just wanted to make it really clear that that was not what was going on. And so if anything, like a lot of the self deprecating humor is like an attempt to just reassure the audience that I know, I'm a bad person, don't worry, like, you know, I don't think I'm better than you at all, you know?
Alex Heeney 16:39
Yeah. I mean, that, like, one of the things that's interesting is the way that the tone shifts. I mean, as you were saying before, like you don't like people don't necessarily really know why they do things. And I liked the way that the film it kind of like the tone of the film shifts as your own experience of the organ donation ships where you're sort of like, you know, nervous about it, but like, self deprecating, and making jokes at the beginning. And then like, all of a sudden, it's really real. And then, you know, what does it feel like afterwards? And that was more traumatic than I was expecting. But also, you know, I'm glad I did it. And like, I'm wondering, because I feel like when we, when you, like you're talking before about you wanted to place those, like, archival or more objective interviews next to what you say, to counteract it. But on the other hand, I feel like those interviews are placed in a ways to like, reflect your state of mind at the time. Oh, 100%.
Speaker 2 17:44
Yeah, yeah, I was trying to reflect like, my own experience. And I think that's often true with these films, like when I'm in the Edit, and I don't, this might be something interesting for you to ask other filmmakers about, I don't know, this might just be like what everyone does in the edit. But what I'm often trying to do is reconstruct my own journey through the material, right? So like, in this film, it was very much like, a kind of like, a Ha, it's so simple. Why doesn't everyone see this thing? It's so simple, and obvious, through a kind of like long morass of, you know, figuring out why it's not so simple, actually, like, you know, like, whether it's whether it sounds so simple, because organ donation is not the like, pristine, morally pure, perfect, you know, synthesis of like human progress and moral progress and technological progress that I sort of saw it as, at the beginning, I had this like really reverential view of it, maybe you get into it, and you're like, oh, there's a lot of like, ethical robustness in this topic that like, a lot of people just sort of start out noticing, but that wasn't where I started out, you know, whether it's that or it's like, you know, the kind of way that you're, like, beautiful dream of this, like beautiful, altruistic, you know, Saint like act, the way that that actually is experienced as just like, a standard medical procedure, as I describe it, like late neck too. It's just like, oh, this is just been like a standard medical experience, like, Oh, of course, like, it's just like, I just am a person in the hospital now. Like, that's what I am like, it's not this like special thing. It's just kind of like, you know, this kind of beautiful dream, like falls upon the wheels of bureaucracy, and you're like, oh, so that is kind of part of it. And then also just like my feeling, just terrified of surgery, and not really foreseeing how terrified I was going to feel of surgery and like, just that whole experience, you know, and then the third act is very much like an attempt to kind of synthesize those things and then kind of like come to a more nuanced and complicated view of the whole topic. So kind of moving from unearned moral certainty through all the kind of doubts and confusion into I think a bad or more nuanced, more intelligent, less defensive and less preachy sense about the whole thing, you know, like this can be both, like the best thing I've ever done and not like, perfect in some sense, you know. So it definitely has like a bit of a personal essay structure. I think that's a quite common personal essay structure to have, like that kind of thing. But that was also just my experience of going through it. It was kind of reflected in the structure of the edit.
Alex Heeney 20:31
Yeah, I mean, I agree with that. But like, it did kind of remind me of nuts to just in the sense of like, because then nuts you're sort of like, oh, yeah, I mean, it's about a charlatan, of course. But yeah, the film sort of tricks you into believing you're like watching a story, and then you end Oh, yeah, he does these amazing things. And then you go, Wait a second. Yeah, it's move so fast before you can wait a second. Maybe this is not right. And then and then of course, it you know, reveals him for the the charlatan that he was, and so you're saying,
Unknown Speaker 21:03
I've revealed myself to be
Alex Heeney 21:06
at all, what I was going to say was, because the first time I watched the film, I just kind of accepted everything is fact, you know, it's like, okay, these organ donors are really happy and, and they're so happy about it. And then later, it gets more complicated for you. And then the second, I was rewatched, again, last night before we chat, and I was like, Oh, these are really curated. Like, like Penny saying, Oh, it's gonna be so great to be an organ donor. And then she's got a series of interviews with people telling her how great Yeah, yeah, how wonderful it was for them. And whether there was footage in which they said the opposite. We don't know. But
Speaker 2 21:44
yeah, there wasn't just FYI. Yeah. But I also didn't choose to speak to people who'd had like, a bad experience as a donor, and those people do exist, you know, so is, yeah, very curated, it's a good way. It really was a tough, it was a tough pill to put together, because I feel like the sort of like, as I said before, like, you know, moving into this world of material and concepts and ideas and history, and all this, like, I saw that there could be like at least three films, I probably tried to make all three of them, you know, so to the extent that it fails, like, it's that for that reason, were like, I really wanted to do the sort of history of organ transplantation, I really wanted to get into the ethics of it, I really wanted to get into my experience and what it was like for me, really, and I really wanted to, like reflect on a larger scale about the idea of altruism, and like, what the mystery of it. And so I was like, Okay, well, those that really any one of those ideas could have been its own film, but I was like, very unwilling to, like, let go of any of them. And so, you know, we sort of, I'm sort of trying to, like thread the needle, and also tell the truth about my own experience, and also, like, give people an entertaining sense of a journey, you know, and so it was definitely challenging. But I'm glad you thought that way, and saw the way that it was structured, and like how carefully constructed it really is. And there's this point, like in the third act, where I'm kind of reflecting back on how I used to think about this. And that's really like reflecting back on just an hour ago for you, but like a couple years ago for me at that point. And that was also part of me trying to like draw the thing to like a sense of a conclusion
Alex Heeney 23:30
to a transplant surgeon, I think, and he's talking about, you know, how hard it is to be on dialysis and how lots of people wait for a kidney that they're never going to get. And then you know, earlier in the film, you'd been talking about how our ideas about transplant, and donor kidney donation, or donating any organs has changed over the last like 50 to 100 years. And then when he's talking about how people are waiting for you know, kidneys that nobody gets the footage that you then show of like somebody experiencing that as like this, like, it looks like it was you know, it's like, archival footage from I don't know, the 70s Or maybe the 80s. It's like, oh, look in the dark ages when people had to use dialysis machines. And I thought that was a really interesting choice. Cuz Of course, I'm sure you could have found something from present day, but you, but you made the choice to make it look like that was a, you know, an archaic thing that we shouldn't have to do anymore. Yeah,
Speaker 2 24:29
that's a good point. Because I remember cutting that scene and having contemporary footage and changing it out. For the historical, which also was like just a way of saying like dialysis hasn't actually improved the technology at all in the last 50 years. Like it actually does look exactly the same as it did in the 70s. It's hardly changed at all. But yeah, I was trying to like find ways to bring history history of this topic into the film kind of as early as possible as well.
Alex Heeney 24:56
Yeah. Well, I'm wondering about because you've made lots of archival films. And this is of course a mix of many different things, including archival. So like how did you think about what archival footage you were going to bring in, because you also, you know, you shot interviews and went on location, some of this stuff you could have shot for yourself and you chose not to.
Speaker 2 25:20
Yes. So part of that had to do with like, the way that I was trying to create the journey of this character penne, and fanatically trying to emphasize a sense of like, loneliness and isolation. And so, and also abstraction. So like, I didn't know anyone with kidney disease, like this was like very much like a research project. So for me, when we, when we, when we were showing like contemporary dialysis patients, it felt like, not true to my story. Like it was in the beginning, very abstract, I didn't meet any patients, I didn't meet any transplant patients or kidney patients at all until very late in the game. It was like this kind of abstract moral thing for me for like quite a while. So that was kind of another reason, you know, I didn't want to like misrepresent, like the nature of my emotional connection to this material. Like, I was like, sitting at home alone, reading books about transplantation, I was not out in the world, getting to know sick people, and like feeling their pain and pathetically. So that was kind of part of that to like, Dr. Milan Saans patients like we met very late in the game, and I actually tried in the Edit to not have them come in until very late. And then everyone was like, I think you need to like show a kidney patient like a little earlier than an hour in and I was like, fine. So you know, we brought that in. But I did try to like continue to push against the sense that that was kind of what my experience was. It was like a research project. Part of it was thinking through like, the truth of like, the experience and the truth, the experience was largely for me mediated through YouTube videos, and archival research and books. And then part of it was to highlight that sense that this was an isolated person, there's a lot of shots of like, Penny at home alone in her laptop, which, you know, this film was also made during the pandemic. So even though we don't mention that, that was very much part of what happened. It was made largely from me home alone, like on my laptop, that was actually what my life was, like, over the last, you know, few years. So, yeah, it had something to do with that it you know, and also just like the textures of the different kind of research materials that the character was collecting became part of like this kind of tapestry of of how she's thinking through the topic,
Alex Heeney 27:53
the title of the film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan is the sort of mythology around what is altruism and trying to figure out, like, you know, your own personal mythology around that, but also like the mythology of our culture, and how we look at that, and, you know, there's altruism, but then there's also kidney donation and, and looking at altruism through the lens of kidney donation and trying to kind of unpack that,
Speaker 2 28:19
totally. And you don't even know about all the scenes I made and cut about my Irish Catholic background, and like, you know, my sort of like confused concept of sainthood. And like, what that means there's a whole bunch of other stuff I cut out, you know, because on the one hand, like we venerate saints, we like name streets after them, you know, and buildings and, you know, worship them, quite literally, but also like, nobody, like likes a saint, like they aren't people that like actually exist in the world as people that people want to, like, have coffee with. And so there was something like, you know, so odd about the whole topic, and like the religious language that tends to pop up around the topic that ultimately I embraced and understood, but early on, I found like really off putting and really like, just not helpful. Like, I don't think it's helpful for people to say that I'm an angel or a saint, like it didn't help at all. Like it didn't make me feel more excited about what I was doing. It also, like didn't feel it didn't capture anything, like what I felt like my experience was. But yeah, I think that these ideas and also like, this gets back to what you were saying earlier about, like, why do we do what we do, and how we evaluate altruism? Like we literally evaluate altruism as like, it has to be like, no benefit to you at all right? That's kind of the definition of it. It's that Abigail Marsh gives in the film, it's any action performed for another individual that's, you know, to the benefit of that individual, not to yourself, but it's very confusing because people also give like $500 billion to a university to have a building named after them, but they're like, Ben effectors, you know, and we think of that as like, charity. And if you do something good, and you don't tell anyone about it, it's supposed to be like the highest form of good. But if you don't tell anyone about it, you're not giving anyone else the opportunity to say, hey, I want to do that, like, that's something I want to do. And so when we were talking earlier about like my discomfort with making the film, it was very much about that to where I was like, Well, now it's going to be thought that like, I'm doing this as a stunt for a film. And like, maybe I am now like, I don't know that I can avoid that at this point, like, now I have subjected the whole experience to the concept of like, it's part of a film, it changes the experience completely. It's never the same experience again. And so I had to struggle with like, why am I doing this? Why am I doing the donation? And why am I doing the film? And like, how much of that discomfort can be part of the text? You know, not just like part of the subtext? Yeah, it that stuff to me is like really confusing. You know, I was talking to people, the film now has been seen by, you know, a number of audiences. And there's been a conversation, I wasn't anticipating with a lot of people who have seen it and have related to it in a very different way, which was I've talked to people who are circuits, and people who are egg donors. And these are really different experiences. But one thing that they share is that they, they intersect altruism and compensation in a different way. So like, we've made the choice as a society to not compensate organ donors, but we do compensate surrogates and We do compensate egg donors. And people have talked to me about like, very interesting, similar inner conflict, and also a feeling of being misunderstood by others. Because you're in both in all the cases that people I've talked to, they all felt like I want to do this, because it's a good thing to do, I want to help somebody, but it doesn't hurt that I'm getting paid it. But then like, you know, other people sort of assume you're doing it because you're like, financially desperate, or like, you don't have better job opportunities or something. And so it becomes like looked at as this like financial thing, whereas in their soul, they were like, I feel this is like a spiritual calling, or like a, like a real act of generosity and altruism, but it's not seen that way by other people because I was compensated. So it's like, kind of like an interesting. So those questions are like, really complicated. And just part of the ethical complication of organ donation, this question of compensation, or like, what's in it for you? Like, if my film wins a bunch of awards? Does that if I want my film to win a bunch of awards? Like, does that, you know, change the ethical equation for people? I don't know. What if I made a ton of money on it? What if it was like, the most financially? It won't be but what if it was like the most lucrative film I ever made? Like, how would that change how I think about the whole thing?
Alex Heeney 33:01
Organ donation, you know, raises all these new ethical questions that, you know, you maybe hadn't considered. And I imagine one of those is privilege. And you have to confront the fact that you have put yourself a white woman in good health at the center of a film about the importance of organ donation for people who are less privileged and, you know, with it has to be through your lens, but you don't want to make it be like I it's all about. Like, I'm not aware that other people exist with different problems. Right? Totally.
Speaker 2 33:35
Yeah, no, definitely. I get that. Yeah. And I, of course, I thought about that. Yeah, it was a huge challenge. Because again, you know, I made the decision to make a film about an altruistic organ donor, you know, and here I am, I'm the altruistic organ donor, and it had to be me, in part because I was at hand. Like, here, I was doing it. And you know, I had access to me. But also because like, I knew I wanted to like, interrogate the donor. And I would just never done this to another person. Like, in a million years, I would not have put another altruistic donor through the wringer. The way I put myself through the wringer like every doubt had to be explored. Every conflict had to be like really looked at like and described. And every time someone every time I questioned or someone else question my motives, motivations, like that was like, fair game, we were gonna, we were gonna, like run into that discomfort wherever we could. So I think that like they really was an attempt to do that. But I also knew the challenge was always going to be that I'm fine. Like the donors, the donors, they're doing this because they're like, Fine, fundamentally. And the more classic story to do would be a recipient like that. The more classic story to do here and like documentary form would be like, let's focus on the person who like is in need of this life changing trend. information and see and get the satisfaction of watching that person be get better, most likely, right? The transformation is almost certainly going to be a positive one. But with a donor, the story is much trickier because you're like, here's a person who's fine. And she's gonna be like, a little worse off at the end. But like, good.
Alex Heeney 35:21
It's like definitely like,
Speaker 2 35:23
not, not a classic story structure that I knew how to approach.
Alex Heeney 35:29
I love the way you do use the when you actually show us the sermon about the Good Samaritan, and that you cut that with some footage of us sort of as just one of many people walking down the street. And the idea that this is yeah, like, the power and it is kind of like, well, I'm just a person, and I did this thing, and you're just a person, and you can do it, too.
Speaker 2 35:51
Yes. And I too, am in need of help, like I do, and like frail and you know, people in general, are like, kind of, like, pathetic, and like, helpless and like needy, like, we're all that way in one way or another. And so like, I am also the person on the side of the road in need of assistance, like, you know, it's like, I'm not like, elevator, that's for sure. But yes, like that, that I'm glad that you liked that scene, because it was very important to me that we try to find a way to like telescope out. Ultimately, it's impossible to imagine someone else like like a distant strangers needs as being more important than your own in a kind of constant way. And that's like something I learned, I tried to do that. It's actually like, psychologically pretty impossible, like your Splinter is like worse than like, some random person you don't know as kids or it's just like, psychologically, you are built to believe you are the center of the universe. And it's like impossible to change that. But what you can do is you can lower your importance, you make yourself less important in relationship to others a little bit, you can do that a little bit like you can kind of like widen the perception, even if you can't change the fact that you are at the center of it. You can also try to just be like, yes, but I am just one person. And like my, I'm not that important, actually. This is what I felt. And ultimately, I feel like I tried to do that with with this project.
Alex Heeney 37:17
Imagine formally, one of the big challenges is that film has to get us inside your head and your headspace. And, you know, that is something I feel like no filmmaker has fully figured out how to do like, like many, which is not to say it's a failure. That's not what I mean, I just mean that we're, it's like an emerging idea, this idea of getting inside somebody's head, especially in the age of like a digital world. And, you know, yeah, you see, I see his experiments it with it. In nonfiction, I see experiments with it in fiction, and some of the stuff you do reminds me more of fiction than nonfiction films. And I'm wondering about like the idea of, you know, because you, you introduce us to your desktop at the beginning. And that kind of comes back at the end. Yeah, but there's all these ways, you know, we get to see your diary, and how you thought about, like, all the different ways of like, how do we get inside Penny, aside from putting a camera in front of her and watching her feel uncomfortable, right? The obvious limitation? Yeah. Because like even things in your diary, like, I don't know that I could say those things, if that were happening to me in front of a camera, but I could write them down in a diary.
Speaker 2 38:28
I'm glad you brought that up. And I also like, you know, I'm pleased that you like see that you think that like some of the strategies were more like from fiction because I think that fiction is a field where psychological space is created more like it's more understood that that's part of what we're doing in a fiction film. And I think in documentary, we're much more concerned typically, with like something like more like objective reality, or like material reality and less with like, internal psychological space. You know, that's very commonly broken. And a lot of the films that you've been looking at over the last few years, I think, push at that. But this was a film where because it was me, because I was the persona that I was creating. I got to like, really explore that more. And it was really wonderful experience. Like there's a lot of like psychedelia in the film, there's a lot of like, kind of, like, flights of fancy and like kind of psychedelic music and like psychedelic imagery that really is not like objectively describing anything, there's a dream scene in the film. And like, you know, in these kind of like, I think more more trying to create a psychological feeling than trying to like make an argument or describe a material reality anyway. So the diaries, the desktop, were both like, very much like about getting you inside my internal space. I've got you as far as my laptop. Yeah, the intimate but I was also trying until, like create a sense of like, truly like my mind. And my soul. Like this was like a really intense spiritual mental experience. And so when I looked at it in the edit, it was like, well, like the journey isn't that exciting? Like nothing really, like, happens to Penny like, she just like, has an idea. And then she has a lot of feelings about it, and then she has a surgery, and then it's over, you know? So I was really trying to think about like the emotional journey, the psychological journey, like the sort of interiority of the experience and try my best to, like, express that. And it's something I've never really done before. I've never really tried to, like Express Kenny G's, interiority through like a psychedelic sequence or something like that, you know, and I feel like I wouldn't even feel comfortable doing that. In a documentary, I feel like that would be like, overstepping somehow, like, I'm not going to pretend to know, his soul. I don't. But I was like, I do know, mine. I mean, as much as anyone can know themselves, I do know me. And so I feel like I was, you know, just trying to, like, represent me in like, a bunch of different ways. And my interior experience of this because the journey is just like, ultimately a psychological one. It's like a thinking thing. It's a feeling thing. It's not. It's not like, yeah, man goes on a quest, you know, to the far regions of the earth, you know, doesn't have, we don't even have like, a lot of exteriors in the movie. Like, there's like, not a lot of like, you know, out in the world NISS to it in a way.
Alex Heeney 41:41
Yeah, I mean, even some of the, I guess, like relating to the archival stuff, too, is some of that feels like it's trying to, you know, there's the that like German, I think it's, oh, is it a Dutch Dutch TV show, you're like, pick your own organ donor. And that comes up. And then like, right after that, you're talking about how you don't want to have a relationship with thee. You don't want to pick a donor. That's, that's a horrifying idea. And then you show us like, the reality of how that's presented to most of us, which is, you know, you look at these GoFundMe pages, or where people are begging for, for organs, but like, the TV show, is kind of like on the one hand, it's an artifact of you know, how people think about organ donation. On the other hand, I felt like it was a window into your mind of like, imagining seeing all of these people and being on a game yeah, having to choose them.
Speaker 2 42:39
Totally. Yeah. And I think that was like, That's so like, that's like how I would do it. Like, that's just what I do. Like I like love looking at archival stuff, and like weird Dutch television, faux reality shows whatever, like, so like, I was just like, trying to like be very free with like, how we were putting together the imagery base of the film. And yeah, it's just like my go to my go to is going to be like, my, like, weird collection of archival films, like that's part of part of like, how I process but yeah, I like loved the idea of the of the people on the show, that the the imagery of the TV show, I thought was really stellar. And like really corny, but also like, really intense. Like, we had these like, images of kidney patients come up. And it would be like, when she didn't select them, they would just be like, oh, and like, go black. Like, I was like, Oh, that person just like died. Like that's so. So anyway, so yeah, trying to be creative about how to represent like that the weirdness of the playing God aspect of the choice, which I totally avoided by making someone else play God, by the way, someone else don't mix. It's not someone else just had to do that. Yeah, it wasn't me. I was like, I'm gonna let like the doctor do it. Like, I'm sure they have a system. You know, it might not be a bunch of assistant, they might just be like, This person seems good.
Alex Heeney 43:58
I mean, how did the editing process work? Because like, unlike other films, where maybe you're like, Okay, I have two weeks or a month or a year with Kenny G, or, you know, these particular times, I'm gonna go spend with them or with nuts with an animated film, you have to have a script fully worked out in order to get the animation done. Like, this is not just your story, but you working through the story. So I imagined like, you, it's not like you collected all the footage. And then, I mean, I could be wrong, but I'm guessing you didn't collect all the footage and then start editing, but rather like editing happened during the process, and you're like, oh, turns out I need this thing. Gotta go shoot that I'm gonna write need to include a diary. And
Speaker 2 44:40
so it was, it was really hard. And I would say that the thing that you mentioned, it's the most astute there is that like, I had access to myself throughout the process. This is terrible. Because what what having a schedule means is if it's discipline, it's like, oh, well, we got it. We didn't like you go If you didn't, or like, you know, that take that I did in with that interview, like it didn't really work, you know, his performance was off, it doesn't really play, okay, it's out like, you know, maybe you go do a reshoot, don't get me wrong, of course, you can always go do another interview, like with my, with most of my films, my master interviews, there usually are two or three of them sprout over time. And we just make it look exactly the same. So you can't tell like, fine, but like, I couldn't do that with me. It also because I gained like 30 pounds. So like, I couldn't even like, fake it. Like, like, I didn't look the same at all. So I couldn't even like, go back and fake like Penny every day stuff later. That didn't look the same. But so the lack of discipline in that area was just like, infinitely confusing, because I was constantly re recording VO We record we record we record like, it was really stressful. And I was like, I need someone to give me like deadline. I was like, good. Someone else give me a deadline. Like when are we done with any like? And the answer was never I'm actually still planning to do one short little pickup Penny shoot to fix a scene that I was playing well, like I'm not even done. Not even done. As of this interview, we're still like, oh, Penny, you know, it's just a shot of me on my balcony. Like, you know, it really, you know, that lack of discipline is is difficult. But I do this tricky thing to where like, the film is very much like the onscreen Penny character has like two iterations, there's like five days before surgery. And then there's 18 months after surgery, so there's like two kind of on screen like confessionals. And I want I needed to be able to like add more video around them, but make it seem like it was all from the same thing. So like I did tons of pickup lines like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pickup lines. And then we would just have to record them in the same way that we recorded the original monologues so that it was like blend because if I was using like this mic this mic like this, like a podcast mic and it sounds totally different. Like I sound closer to you. It's like more intimate you can hear my lips Max more. But we had to like make the VO sound like the inner the interview sound so that you wouldn't like be cut because there were just too many pennies. There was like a diary there was observational footage there's like you know me off camera during the interviews There's me on camera during the monologue. I was like I can't also have a narrator Penny like that is like so many many different register you know, so I made the there actually is a ton of narration but the trick was that I made it sound like it was interview like that it was just off the cuff like as if I was sitting in that room just like freestyling in front of the camera. The probably like half the VO in the movie is like later added later and then just like creatively edited in with like the pre existing stuff is you
Alex Heeney 48:04
use did you use like a studio for those interviews where you've got a background because then yeah,
Speaker 2 48:08
yeah. Yeah. So we had to just go into like a quiet room and try to put the microphones at the same distance. You know, same microphone, same distance. Yeah. So he did so it was just like such a journey to figure all this out. Like I can't even like, luckily, I'm already forgetting it all, but like it was just like, so hard to be like, Well, wait, the VO doesn't sound the same. Like what do I do the video. There was like a more formal narration for a while, like I had this kind of clips. I really like very poetic essay films, like I love those movies. And I like was like, Okay, I'm going to do this, like beautiful, poetic, like, composed. NARRATION And that was like a big part of the film for a long time. But then it was like, competing with just like, penny off the cuff in the monologue space. And I was like, I think I need to have one or the other. I don't think I could have
Alex Heeney 49:06
what would be clean? Almost if you'd kept that too clean for a film about somebody figuring things out.
Speaker 2 49:13
Yeah, exactly. It's a good point, actually. Yeah. Yeah, you very much like, I think in the character that I created, like definitely have a sense of like a person who's like out a lot in her mind and is like, working through it with you. And that felt like really important. Again, rather than being like, here's a person who's like, got something to tell you. It was like more like, I'm trying to figure this out alongside you. Like that was the feeling that I was trying to create with that character to make her more bearable, frankly. And I was so like, nervous that I was so scared that that that the film would be like self aggrandizing that like it would like be like too much like oh, she's trying to make herself look good that I pushed way too hard in the opposite direction. Furley cuts, the first test screenings. People were like, Why did you make yourself like so? And like, horrible, like, you know, it's like, why? And I was like, Well, I don't want you to, I don't want you to think that I think I'm great. And it's like, okay, but you don't need to make yourself look bad either. And like, people aren't gonna want to spend 90 minutes with you. If you're like, horrible person who's like, a bad like, you know what I mean? Like, I was like, trying way too hard to make myself look bad.
Alex Heeney 50:29
Yeah, well, I imagine that's where, like, is that where an editor is? Partly helpful is because they Oh, yeah. No, need somebody to be like,
Speaker 2 50:39
totally. This was, this was like, you know, my most personal film, right, like bilott. But the irony of that is, it's mine most collabs actually my most collaborative thumb. Because like, I needed to be directed by my a cinematographer, I needed my producer to sit in that room with me and throw questions at me to help me, you know, do something in those monologue spaces. I needed my editors to, like, tell me like how things are coming across, because like, I genuinely couldn't tell. Like, and the most interesting thing to me was about the kind of character the crafting of the character like that was just so challenging, because I'm actually really good at character usually, like I, I can sit in an edit or in an interview on a shoot, and I'm pretty clear on like, which aspects are are relevant to like the story that I know I'm putting together in my head in which aren't like, I know when I'm just nodding along to be polite, but I'm actually not listening because this is not relevant. Like, I did not possess that skill at all, in this project. So I would find myself being like, blah, blah, blah, my grandmother, she's schizophrenic, whatever. And as I was saying, it, I'd be like, Is this relevant? Like, in the edit, I'd be like, Is this relevant? Like, I know what it means to me, but I don't know that it's going to mean anything to anyone else. And so I really needed my editors, most, most importantly, to be crafting the penne persona. And I had to really put it in their hands, largely because, you know, you can probably imagine, I find, like, every single part of this embarrassing, like, like, literally every part of it, like every word I say on screen, I'm like,
Alex Heeney 52:23
Oh, God, why did she say that? Like,
Speaker 2 52:25
there's this part where I go in for surgery. And I don't remember meeting my having my surgeon before. I don't even know how you read that. But like, I am just like, you are such a crappy person you like met this one before and you forgot, like, what a bad shitty person I don't. And I kept lobbying to have it. I was like, gotta take that out. We got to take that out. And everyone else was like, No, it just seems like you're kind of out of it. You know, like, you're scared and you're out of it. So my humiliation at like, having met my surgeon before and having forgotten was maybe not so relevant to like how it reads to an audience. But like, I could I hate I hate that scene. I genuinely still, I'm just like, so mortified every time it comes on. But that's just one of like, the 300 examples I could give you of like the mortifying. Like, everything I say is stupid. You know, kind of kneeling, I, I didn't like it. It wasn't good. Like, I didn't enjoy it. I'm fine. I think it came through the film is good. But the crafting of that character was like everyone put me on that project doing it because I really was pushing it in all kinds of bad directions for a while like I really was like wrong.
Alex Heeney 53:46
conditions the Good Samaritan is still seeking distribution in the US and internationally. In the meantime, though, it is playing festivals around the world. Pennies volumes do have a tendency to get picked up. So I'm hopeful that it will be available on VOD within a year or two and hopefully in cinemas before then, but I do recommend seeking it out at your local film festival if you can. As a reminder, we also have another interview with Penny Lane on the podcast discussing her 2019 film Hail Satan and that's in Episode 13, which is a member exclusive episode to listen to the episode become a member at seven dash rho.com/join. On today's episode, we talked about how Penny is using techniques from fiction to tell her subjective story in Confessions of a Good Samaritan. The film especially reminded me of the films of Joachim trir from Oslo August 31, a lot of bonds to the worst person in the world. I highly recommend checking these films out Oslo was our number one film of the 2010s at seven throw we are pretty much the experts on triggers films, so there are a ton of ways to explore his approaches to storytelling. We've got podcasts on almost all of his films, audio commentaries on his first four features and a forthcoming book on his body of work existential detours. For more information on all of those, you can go to seven dash ro.com/yo Keem dash trir That's J O A C H I M dash t r, i e r and to find out more about the book, existential detours, yoking triggers cinema of indecisions and revisions, you can go to existential detours.com. If you're interested in continuing to explore self portraits in documentary our ebooks objective realities the art of creative nonfiction film explores this through interviews and essays. conversions of good samaritan uses elements of the desktop documentary and in subjective realities, we talked to Chloe Kelly Bear Lenay about her work in desktop documentaries, including in fact her film watching the pain of others, which is actually about watching pennies film the pain of others. In the book, we also talked to several filmmakers about processing their feelings through personal documentaries, including Sophie Ron Barry on still processing. Kristen Johnson on Digg Johnson is dead, Orlando Vaughn on sido on his film, Evelyn and Joe beanie on his personal life documentaries, which he makes with his wife. Finally, there is a fantastic essay by Lindsey Pugh on Chantal Akerman, self portraits in news from home and no home movie, which are great examples of personal storytelling. When you don't even get to see the artist whose story The films are about, you can get your copy at subjective realities.com I'll put a link to that and everything else I've mentioned here in the show notes. Since this is the final episode of our creative nonfiction season. I also wanted to direct you to more resources on creative nonfiction. We've been following these boundary pushing films and seven throw for years and we're really one of the best sources for in depth interviews with filmmakers making this kind of work. Subjective realities is a great starting point. The book delves deep into many approaches to creative nonfiction film, including portraits of other people, documentaries that reframe history and documentaries that play with the line between fiction and nonfiction and that session on fiction and nonfiction, and whereas the line even includes a case study on animated documentaries. If you visit the creative nonfiction season website at seven dash ro.com/creative nonfiction pod, you'll find links to many of our resources on creative nonfiction film, I'll put a link to that again in the show notes. So our resources include interviews with creative nonfiction filmmakers and podcast discussions on creative nonfiction film. Soon we'll also be reopening access to the recordings from our 2021 creative nonfiction workshop, which is a series of conversations between some of the most exciting creative nonfiction filmmakers working today including Joe beany. In conversation with Robert Greene and Sophie Romare. In conversation with Kristen Johnson, check the creative nonfiction podcast page for updates on new articles, podcasts and other resources. You can also sign up for our newsletter to find out about our latest articles, books and courses as well as recommendations on the best new films, creative nonfiction or otherwise. You can even download a free excerpt from subjective realities by joining our newsletter. That's the end of the creative nonfiction season. The podcast will now be on a temporary hiatus as we prepare our next season for publication. That season will be on the history of progressive depictions of abortion on screen. It's a six episode season, which will drop every two weeks starting in the late summer or early fall exact date TBA we've been researching the season and putting it together for over a year it's going to be something really special that we think will be a great resource on how our perceptions and experiences of abortion have changed over the years. And how that's reflected on film members will get early access to the season so become a member today at seven Kadesh row.com/join. If you'd like to get in touch with me you can find me on Twitter, as long as that's still around and Instagram at BYU Cineaste BW ESTCINE A S T E. You can find seven throw on Twitter and Instagram at seven throw s ENTHROW. You can email me at contact at seven dash ro.com That's contact at US EB e n t h dash r o w.com. If you enjoyed the episode or indeed the season, I'd really appreciate it if you would consider rating and reviewing the podcast rating is easy. You don't have to leave your name or write any comments just give us five Stars please, please. Um, the ratings actually make a huge difference because if we can get 200 ratings, then we can get indexed on Rotten Tomatoes. And that is super useful for just making sure it's possible for other people to find the podcast. You know, there are so many film caught podcasts and as a, an independent nonprofit, you know, we're really struggling to, you know, compete against giant behemoth like blank check pot or indie wire or whatnot and rotten tomatoes can sort of give us a little bit of an extra boost and help people like you find us. Thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Sign up to receive email updates about the podcast
Keep up with the Seventh Row podcast by subscribing to our free newsletter! Discover great under-the-radar films and engage in in-depth discussions on them.