Documentary Films


a film by Werner Schweizer and Cristina Karrer

a co-production by LICHTBLICK FILM, Dschoint Ventschr and
Big World Cinema, Capetown
in co-production with SFDRS, WDR and BR
supported by Filmfund NRW, BAK

distrubution (Germany): Real Fiction
worldsales: Wide Management Entreprise

35mm/HD / 97 Minutes / Dolby Digital / Color

December 3rd, 1967 - a night that changed the world. The first human heart has been successfully transplanted in Cape Town, South Africa. The Heart surgeon Christian Barnard (1922-2001) shot overnight to fame as no other doctor before or thereafter. Christian Barnard performed the first human heart transplantation in a country where racial segregation was entrenched as nowhere else in the world. Unsurprisingly, the team, which Barnard presented to the international press, was entirely white.

Post Apartheid, 2003 - a black man called Hamilton Naki unexpectedly claimed that he was part of the operation team in 1967. Naki asserted in an interview in 2003 with an American TV-station, that he was the one who took the heart out of Denise Darvall’s chest, brought it over to Christian Barnard in the adjoining theatre and then helped Barnard putting it into Washkansky’s chest.

Hamilton Naki passed away 2005. All who knew him, regardless of their racial or social backgrounds, hold him in high esteem. He was an honest worker, a very talented surgeon, modest and hard working. Indeed, Hamilton Naki, had been working in the animal laboratory, where Barnard performed crucial experiments with dog-hearts for the later ground-breaking operation. Hamilton Naki was right at his side. Who actually was the leader there, the source of inspiration? Naki or Barnard?

Fact is: Until the end of Apartheid, nobody ever talked about Hamilton Naki. Only afterwards he was ‘discovered’ and – just like Barnard - turned into a celebrity.

However, up until Barnard died, Hamilton Naki never claimed in public to have been part of the team in the night of December 3rd 1967. He only did that afterwards.
Why? What happened all those years while he was working in the animal lab, being paid the salary of a gardener, being regarded by the whites as an underdog, as somebody coming from a race with limited intelligence? And yet, it was him who worked relentlessly in the animal lab, taught hundreds of junior surgeons and was always in an upbeat mood. He had passion for his work, he had to leave his family thousands of miles behind in order to achieve what he did and lived in a single quarter hostel in one of the townships which were devised by the Apartheid Regime. And yet, despite his enormous contribution and role in the research he wasn’t amongst those who were called to come to join the team for the first human heart transplantation - or was he?

written and directed by: Cristina Karrer, Werner Schweizer
producer: Werner Schweizer
co-producer: Carl-Ludwig Rettinger
co-producer Austria: Johannes Rosenberger
commissional editors: SFDRS - Urs Augstburger, WDR - Jutta Krug
BR - Thomas Sessner
DoP: Michael Hammon
editor: Patricia Wagner
sound by: Jow Dlamini

43. Solothurner Filmtage

Zürcher Filmpreis 2008
Nominierung Prix du Public, Solothurner Filmtage
Kassel Dokumentarfilmfest
Sevilla European Film Festival
Kos International Health Film Festival