Perfect Strangers raises questions about what motivates an individual towards an extreme act of compassion. The film tells the story of two unique and engaging characters. Ellie 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. Why are we unnerved by the idea of such an extreme gift?
18 minutes | 2021
69 minutes | 2013
Best Feature Documentary Award, DocuFest Atlanta
Audience Award/Best Feature Documentary, Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Audience Award/Best Feature Documentary, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
American Documentary Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Heartland Film Festival
Thin Line Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival
ReelHeART International Film Festival, Toronto
Chagrin Documentary Film Festival
Global Health Film Festival
Dalarna University, Falun, Sweden Georgetown University
Stanford-Harvard Alumni Club, Berlin
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Humboldt State University
The Evergreen State College
Stanford University Medical School
Transplant Games of America, 2014 and 2016
American Association of Kidney Patients National Conference
American Psychological Association National Conference
Southern Circuit Tour
American Public Health Association National Conference
Donate Life, Portland
Transplant Recipients International Organization, San Francisco, New York
Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center – Portland
California Pacific Medical Center – San Francisco
St. Michael’s Hospital – Toronto
America ReFramed, PBS national series
“Perfect Strangers is a stunning piece about love in ways that I’ve never imagined. Her characters jump off the screen into your hearts. Her storytelling simplicity is inundated with complex issues of some of life’s most challenging issues. Remarkable film, remarkable filmmaker.”
– Allan Holzman, Emmy and Peabody Award Winning Director
“It’s a fascinating journey with amazing footage….tense and touching moments.”
– Kathryn Eastburn, Colorado NPR
“The film tells the story beautifully from both the transplant and the donor perspective. It accurately conveys the emotional highs and lows of both parties and leaves you wondering how you could help a stranger in need.”
– Laura Frnka-Davis, LifeGift, Fort Worth
“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.”
– A.H., living kidney donor
Ellie is a massage therapist who lives on the central coast of California. After meeting a young woman in the early stages of kidney disease, she was inspired to learn more. Her curiosity led her to a website where potential donors and recipients can meet. After becoming aware of the tremendous need for organ donors, Ellie decided to donate to a perfect stranger. The film picks up her story at this juncture.
Kathy lives with her husband Jim in northern California, 500 miles from Ellie’s home. She experienced the early stages of kidney failure in her twenties. After starting dialysis and getting placed on a kidney waitlist, she began to look for a living donor. Hoping to accelerate the seven years that she would likely spend waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor, she posted her profile on matchingdonors.com.
I met Ellie in the early days of her exploration into donating a kidney to someone in need. Articulate, insightful, and irreverent, she is an ideal protagonist for this experiential, character-driven film. From the outset, I was granted unprecedented access to Ellie and Kathy’s lives as the three of us embarked on an unpredictable journey spanning several years. The film reveals the physical and emotional terrain of organ donation through an intimate portrayal of the process.
Perfect Strangers is ultimately a study of the human condition, specifically focused on what motivates an individual towards an extreme act of compassion. Filmed over four years, the longitudinal approach to the narrative accommodates the uncertainty of the outcome for both Ellie and Kathy. Organ donation from a deceased donor is held in high regard and many blithely affix the “pink dot” to their driver’s license. But altruistic organ donation, situated on the outer edge of the “giving” continuum, can elicit suspicion and hostility. Why do we feel threatened by the idea of such an extraordinary gift?
As the population ages, the waitlist for a deceased donor kidney grows longer. There are now more than 102,000 people on that list. Organ donation from living donors can significantly increase the supply but many people feel discomfited by the idea. Through the prism of one kidney’s journey, Perfect Strangers confronts thorny philosophical and ethical questions about altruism and acts of compassion.
Producer, Director, Editor – Jan Krawitz
Cinematographers – Charlene Music, Mike Seely
Additional Camera – John Kane, Melanie Levy, Ryan Malloy, Theo Rigby
Music – Max Avery Lichtenstein
The Fledgling Fund
Ruth Levison Halperin Fund
Lucius & Eva Eastman Fund
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Jan Krawitz is available for speaking engagements with her films at conferences and universities. She also conducts master classes and presents public talks about documentary film as a Visiting Filmmaker.