Film to be made of first heart transplant 50 years on

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A film is to be made of Professor Chris Barnard and the world’s first heart transplant operation at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967, reports The Times.

The film which will feature an international South African actor as Barnard will mark the 50th anniversary of what has been called the greatest medical achievement of the 20th century.

At the time the head of the cardiothoracic surgery department at Groote Schuur Hospital‚ Barnard performed the operation on 53-year-old Sea Point businessman Louis Washkansky. Washkansky died 18 days later but, the report says, Barnard’s medical triumph turned him into an international superstar.

Barnard’s personal life became the stuff of legends: he flirted with movie stars and princesses‚ engaged with politicians and popes and‚ after divorcing his first wife‚ went on to marry twice more‚ each time to a glamorous and ever younger woman.

The report says the film focuses on the period around the first human-to-human heart transplant. The original theatre at Groote Schuur in which the now famous operation took place has been restored to its original condition. Pivotal scenes will be filmed there.
Producer Robert dos Santos said that the project had been in development for the last four years. “We had multiple scripts. His life was so interesting that it became too much for any single screenplay so we decided to focus on the period around the transplant. It was the most tumultuous period of his life.”

Dos Santos said that Barnard was a rebel. “He went up against the powers that be to engage black staff and he was criticised for transplanting organs from ‘non-whites’ into white patients saying that ‘we are all red on the inside’.”

The South African-owned international production company Karoo Films‚ which worked on Jagveld written by Deon Meyer and released earlier this year as well as Durban Poison‚ will be shooting on location in and around Cape Town. It has not yet been decided who will play the part of the famous professor but Dos Santos said in the report that they are looking for an internationally recognised South African. “Because Karoo Films has secured worldwide distribution through a London-based company‚ we need actors with pull power.

“There are some potential roles for overseas actors but we are proud that this is a South African made movie telling a South African story and we hope to keep it as South African as possible.”

The movie will be multi-lingual‚ using both English and Afrikaans

The report says it is a little known fact that Barnard insisted on speaking English in the hospital setting. “He was known for that at work. Even when he spoke to his brother in theatre it would be in English‚” said Dos Santos.

“We have done an enormous amount of research‚ from interviewing the nurses‚ technicians and doctors who were with him during the historic transplant‚ to watching films of his work that are available at the Heart of Cape Town Museum’s archives.”

The report says shooting of Barnard: The Movie begins in September.

The Times report

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