Social Entrepreneurship in Focus Through Documentary

Films Open Heart
Open Heart

Open Heart

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Open Heart is the story of eight Rwandan children who leave their families behind and embark on a life-or-death journey to receive high-risk open-heart surgery in Africa’s only free-of-charge, state-of-the-art cardiac hospital, the Salam Center run by Emergency, an Italian NGO. Their heart valves, damaged and weakened by rheumatic heart disease, which develops from untreated childhood strep throat, leave them lethargic and weak. Some of the children have only months to live.

During their cross-continental journey, Open Heart reveals the intertwined endeavors of Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda’s lone, overworked public cardiologist, and Dr. Gino Strada, the Salam Center’s head surgeon. As one of Emergency’s founders, he must fight not just for the children’s lives but for the tenuous financial future of the hospital.

There are an estimated 18 million people afflicted with rheumatic heart disease and in need of urgent surgery, almost two thirds of them children, and the disease kills 300,000 people per year. Despite those facts, the Salam Center remains the only facility in Africa capable of such high-standard cardiac surgery, free of charge. Salam is key in Emergency’s plan to treat and reduce heart diseases in an area three times the size of Europe and home to 300 million people. The idea that “the Right to be Cured” should be accessible and free of charge to every member of the “human community,” is part of Emergency’s operating ethos. To accomplish that, the Center serves as a hub for the program for pediatrics and cardiac surgery that Emergency is implementing throughout its own medical facilities and local hospitals across Africa.


Producer Cori Stern has worked with Partners in Health for many years. The team scheduled their first production trip shortly before the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and has been filming the unfolding story of Partners in Health groundbreaking work since.  While filming in Sudan, it became clear that the story unfolding on the ground merited its own film.

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Director: Kief Davidson

Kief recently completed Open Heart, which took him and a small crew to the heart of Rwanda and Sudan. He is concurrently filming a companion film about Dr. Paul Farmer and his organization Partners In Health, executive produced by Matt Damon and Damon Lindelof in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, Skoll Foundation and Tribeca Gucci.

He’s had international success from the award-winning feature-length documentaries, Kassim the Dream and The Devil’s Miner. Kief’s first feature, The Devil’s Miner, made its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival and won over 15 awards at international film festivals.

He began his filmmaking career as editor on the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. He is the recipient of two Emmy nominations for his editing work with National Geographic and earned the International Monitor Award for Best Editing on the journalistic film, What’s News? Kief is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and is based in Los Angeles, California.

Producer: Cori Sheperd Stern

Cori Shepherd Stern is a writer and producer, working in both documentary and narrative film. In addition to Open Heart, she is currently producing a feature documentary in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, Skoll Foundation and The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund about the revolutionary health care organization Partners In Health, also directed by Kief Davidson. Her other film projects include the major feature film release Warm Bodies directed by Jonathan Levine for Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate, and The Arizona Project for Miramax.

Beyond film, Cori is known for her work as a social change strategist and as a co-founder of STRONGHEART, an international residential community and accelerated learning lab for exceptional young people from extreme life circumstances across the globe including former child slaves, child soldiers, refugees, and other young survivors of conflict or poverty. The program – which has been called “R&D for brilliance in unlikely places” – combines groundbreaking neuroscience, social and personal change theory, and community psychology to affect significant change and create future influencers and advocates from exceptionally challenging backgrounds.

Cori’s work has been covered by BBC, CNN, NPR, and National Geographic among others. She was named O Magazine’s “Good Guy of the Month” and ABC World News “Person of the Week.”

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