“When I finished medical school in 1952, the textbooks were full of diseases, the causes of which were not known. So I had a dream list: I wanted to know the cause and find the cure for one disease. And I knew it was dangerous. If you do not make it work, you’re ruined. And there’s a kind of ruination that goes well beyond public ruin. It’s a destruction from inside.”—Thomas Starzl, 2016

The Film

Burden of Genius plunges the viewer into the controversy swirling around Starzl’s turbulent 60-year career before we land in the 1980s, the decade when organ transplantation, the stuff of science fiction, becomes a reality. Accusations of blind career ambition collide with reflections from colleagues and patients who credit him with saving thousands of lives through his innovations in surgery and immunotherapy.

Fueled by coffee, cigarettes and the odd ten-minute catnap on any available horizontal surface, he pushes himself relentlessly, acquiring mythic status and attracting the most talented young surgeons in the world who now run most of its top transplant centers. “Working in the trenches was a form of insanity,” Starzl admitted later. “It was a death march. At the end I was afraid I’d lost touch with humanity.”

Burden of Genius is the story of an innovator as complex and elusive as the biological secrets he unlocked. It is also a reflection on the price of scientific progress by the man many consider the greatest surgeon of the 20th century and the father of organ transplantation.

The Team

  • Tjardus Greidanus

    Director, Writer, Editor & Cinematographer

    Burden of Genius is Tjardus’s follow-up to A Shot to Save the World, which documented the creation of the Salk polio vaccine. An early cut of that film came to the attention of Bill Gates, who was interviewed before its premiere on the Smithsonian Network on World Polio Day 2013 for which it won broadcasting’s CINE Golden Eagle. The film also aired on the BBC, was syndicated throughout Europe and Israel, and screened at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum, the Salk Institute and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, where it won the jury award for Best Documentary.   Tjardus has written and directed two narrative films, the $5M coming-of-age drama Hellbent and A New York Heartbeat, an Echo Bridge Entertainment release that was named Best Feature 2014 by New Filmmakers Los Angeles. He began his career as a director of photography on PBS’s Wired Science series.

  • Laura Davis


    Burden of Genius is Laura’s latest film with director Tjardus Greidanus. It is their follow-up to the CINE Golden Eagle-winning A Shot to Save the World about the creation of the Salk polio vaccine. Other films they have made together include the dramatic features Hellbent and A New York Heartbeat, both of which Laura produced. She also produced the documentaries, Everest: On Location in the Death Zone (Miramax), a Gold Plaque winner at the Chicago International Film Festival, The Chef & The Architect (Food Network) and the movies-of-the-week, Someone Else’s Child (ABC) and Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack (CBS). Laura began her career as a rock & roll disc jockey at the legendary Los Angeles radio station KLOS, and later by making behind-the-scenes documentaries for the world’s most respected directors including over 30 projects for Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols and Michael Mann.


  • Carl Kurlander


    Carl is a screenwriter (St. Elmo’s Fire) and TV writer producer (Saved By the Bell) who also teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is the co-founder of the non-profit Steeltown Entertainment Project with the mission of building a thriving film industry in southwestern Pennsylvania.   He has collaborated on various projects with Laura Davis and Tjardus Greidanus including his directorial debut, My Tale of Two Cities, a documentary about Pittsburgh’s rebirth in which he went shopping with Teresa Heinz Kerry, played football with NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris, and walked dogs with Dr. Thomas Starzl, which gave rise to the idea for Burden of Genius. The three also worked together on A Shot To Save the World, a documentary about the Salk polio vaccine which won a CINE Golden Eagle Award.  Carl was also co-executive producer of The Chair, the DGA Award-winning Starz reality series.

  • Kris Veenis


    Kris frequently collaborates with director Tjardus Greidanus and producers Laura Davis and Carl Kurlander. He co-produced their award-winning documentary, A Shot To Save the World, which premiered in 2013 on the Smithsonian Channel and the BBC. As an independent filmmaker, he’s produced projects for performing arts organizations, non-profits and corporations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Clients include the Grable Foundation, University of Pittsburgh, Attack Theatre, The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, and the city’s PBS affiliate, WQED. In 2009, he began working as a teaching artist, creating and fostering filmmaking learning opportunities for students in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Kris grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania and believes his strong work ethic grew out of helping at his family’s restaurant. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and step-daughter, cooking, hockey, and writing.

  • David Majzlin


    David Majzlin is an Emmy®-nominated composer and music producer known for his eclectic and genre-bending approach to scoring. David also recently worked with opera superstar Renée Fleming for the score to Bel Canto directed by Paul Weitz and starring Oscar®-winner Julianne Moore His other credits include the multiple Emmy®-award-winning documentary, The Loving Story (HBO), the Emmy®-nominated Sins of My Father (HBO), and PBS documentaries Herb and Dorothy (Independent Lens) and Althea (American Masters.) Other films to which he has contributed original music are Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (Samuel Goldwyn Films, Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival), Sunshine Cleaning (nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival), and numerous television shows including Parenthood, Ugly Betty, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and 60 Minutes.


  • Barry Thompsom

    VFX Designer & Producer

    Barry is an Emmy® Award-winning freelance motion designer based in Missoula, Montana.  He produces visual designs and still image composites for films and commercials. His Emmy® was for Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction on the film Valley Uprising.  He was also lead designer for the documentaries, I AM directed by Tom Shadyac, and Damnation directed by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight. Barry said about Burden of Genius,Working with Dr. Starzl’s historic photos and learning layer by layer his life story was inspiring and hard.  Some days, I would be feeling good when he was making progress, and then down when he lost patients, especially the children. I cannot imagine the stress he went through.  Now, millions have been saved. He was amazing!” When not in the studio, you can find Barry fly-fishing on the Blackfoot, snowboarding or polishing up on his lefse flippin (we advise that you look this up.)

  • Roman Jaster & Nicole Jaffe

    Graphic Designers

    Yay Brigade is a design studio founded by Roman Jaster and Nicole Jaffe in 2014. From their studio in Downtown Los Angeles, the duo focuses on web and print design. They create work that is delightful and rigorous, with a dash of whimsy.

    Yay Brigade celebrates the medium of the web as a malleable and democratic communication platform. Their ambidextrous designer/developer personas provide a strong foundation for creative and robust websites.