Burden of Genius: Dr. Thomas Starzl’s Journey Into Organ Transplantation Documentary Premiering to the Public at the Rangos Giant Cinema in Honor of National Donate Life Month

Transplant Recipients, Donor Families and Medical Experts to Serve as Guest Speakers at Several Showings



Giant leaps forward in science are not made by wimps. The film, Burden of Genius: Dr. Thomas Starzl’s Journey Into Organ Transplantation, shows what it takes to revolutionize medicine—and the price paid by some who do.

This University of Pittsburgh production has been winning awards at film festivals and captivating audiences around the world, from London to Madrid to New Delhi. Now it’s coming home to Pittsburgh, where Dr. Thomas Starzl made history.

Captivating interviews, fascinating archival footage, and heartwarming stories from doctors, organ donors, and transplant recipients converge in this new documentary about legendary Pittsburgher Dr. Thomas Starzl, which will have its first public run at Carnegie Science Center’s Rangos Giant Cinema, Fri.–Thurs., April 12–18.

Burden of Genius sheds new light on how this maverick medical pioneer took what was science fiction and overcame seemingly impossible obstacles to turn transplantation into an everyday “routine miracle,” which has saved the lives of over 750,000 patients and changed modern medicine.

The timing of the premiere could not be more appropriate, with April designated as National Donate Life Month. The first screenings, scheduled for Fri., April 12, coincide with National Blue and Green Day, which promotes the success of organ, eye, and tissue transplantation and the need for registered donors. Throughout the run of the film, CORE (Center for Organ Recovery & Education) will have a table where visitors can sign up to become organ donors. Those who do so will receive a coupon for a free popcorn at the concession stand. 

Considered the “father of transplantation,” Starzl performed the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967, but it wasn’t until he came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1981 that he perfected what was still considered an experimental procedure and helped what was then a Steel City struggling to reinvent itself become "the Transplant Capital of the World.”

For Burden of Genius, the filmmakers sat down with Starzl for a week of interviews and had full access to the Thomas E. Starzl Institute archives. They interviewed numerous Starzl surgical fellows, who have gone on to run transplant centers around the world, as well as transplant recipients including musician David Crosby; filmmaker and son of actor Robert Redford, Jamie Redford; and Larry Kramer, the playwright and activist who was part of a pilot program Starzl ran in the 1980s on AIDS patients. Pittsburgh’s own David McCullough also speaks in the film on Starzl and his place in history as one of the true heroes of the 20th century. 

Several showings of Burden of Genius will feature special guests and speakers, including:

  • Fri., April 12: In honor of National Blue and Green Day, we will celebrate transplant recipients and donor families at the 4 pm screening. 
  • Fri., April 12: Following the 7 pm screening, filmmaker Carl Kurlander, known for St. Elmo’s Fire and The Shot Felt ‘Round the World, will talk about the journey of being one of the producers on Burden of Genius and show a rare outtake with Dr. Starzl. 
  • Sat., April 13: After the 4 pm screening, Dr. Velma Scantlebury, a former Thomas E. Starzl Institute fellow and author of the new book, “Beyond Every Wall: Becoming America’s 1st Black Female Transplant Surgeon,” and Dr. Abhi Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Institute, will discuss the past, present, and future of transplantation as part of a Science on Screen discussion.
  • Sat., April 13: Dr. George Mazariegos, chief of the Pediatric Transplant Program of Children’s Hospital of UPMC, will give a talk after the 7 pm screening.
  • Sun., April 14: After the 4 pm screening, Scantlebury will join Joy Starzl, Starzl’s wife, who is in some of the funniest and most heartfelt moments of the film. Scantlebury will have signed copies of her book available for purchase. 

Burden of Genius has played to sold-out film festival audiences all over the world, winning Best Documentary prizes at the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Raw Science Film Festival in Los Angeles.

“At almost every screening, audience members have come up to us and have told us how they were so moved by the film, that they are changing their organ donation status,” said producer Carl Kurlander. “Even we were not prepared for the powerful reaction to this story and that is the greatest tribute to Dr. Starzl and his legacy.”

The Rangos Giant Cinema is honored to host the first public showings of the film during National Organ Donation Awareness month, appropriately in the town Starzl loved so much.

Tickets may be purchased on Carnegie Science Center’s website. To purchase tickets for a group of 15+, please call 412.237.3400.

Burden of Genius is a University of Pittsburgh Production directed by Tjardus Greidanus and produced by Laura Davis and Carl Kurlander.  

A press kit is available for download on the film's website. For more information, contact Manager of Marketing, Public Relations, and Social Media Nicole Chynoweth at 412.237.1537 or ChynowethN@CarnegieScienceCenter.org. To learn more about the film, visit StarzlFilm.com


About Carnegie Science Center
Carnegie Science Center is dedicated to inspiring learning and curiosity by connecting science and technology with everyday life. By making science both relevant and fun, the Science Center’s goal is to increase science literacy in the region and motivate young people to seek careers in science and technology. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Science Center is Pittsburgh’s premier science exploration destination, reaching more than 700,000 people annually through its hands-on exhibits, camps, classes, and off-site education programs.

Accessibility: Features for All
Carnegie Science Center welcomes all visitors. We work to assist visitors with disabilities in obtaining reasonable and appropriate accommodations, and in supporting equal access to services, programs, and activities. We welcome visitors in wheelchairs on the deck of our USS Requin (SS 481) submarine. Below-deck visits require full mobility. Hearing assistance devices are available for The Rangos Giant Cinema. Please ask when you buy your ticket.
Please note that requests for accommodations should be made at least two weeks prior to your visit. For specific questions about wheelchairs, strollers, or other programmatic or equipment needs, see the ticket counter located on the first floor of the main building or contact the Operations Department at 412.237.1641 or info@carnegiesciencecenter.org.
About Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Established in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. In 2017, the museums reached more than 1.4 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events.