The Heart of Nuba | Docs/ology

The Heart of Nuba

Director: Kenneth Carlson

Runtime: 85 minutes

Since 2011, Omar al-Bashir, the self-appointed president of Sudan, has been bombing his own people in the Nuba Mountains in the southern region of the country. al-Bashir doesn’t have enemies there other than the ones he has created by bombing the people. He wants what’s under the people’s feet – the mineral resources believed to be under the mountains. al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on five counts of crimes against humanity, but no powerful foreign government has been willing to step up to stop al-Bashir’s reign of terror over his own people. Since 2009, al-Bashir has even banned all foreign humanitarian aid from entering the country.

But that hasn’t stopped Dr. Tom Catena and the nurses who run the Mother of Mercy hospital in the Nuba region. The Heart of Nuba chronicles the life of this community of Catholic aid workers and Nuba peoples who surround, work, and are helped by the hospital. The documentary focuses primarily on Dr. Catena and what took him to the Nuba people, what kept him there when the bombs started falling around them, and what sustains him as he continues his work as the only full-time doctor on staff in the war-torn region. Dr. Catena may be an inspiring point-of-entry for Western audiences, but the documentary spends time among the Nuba people involved in the work as well. Rare is the documentary that can give you one man’s story and the story of the people he serves at the same time. The Heart of Nuba is a rare film.

The Heart of Nuba is the most enervating documentary I’ve seen in years. Filmmaker Kenneth Carlson takes his camera into the bunkers and foxholes with the people, carefully framing their lives. He is at Dr. Catena’s side as Dr. Catena performs surgeries on casualties of the bombings and on more “routine” patients, like babies with cancer of the kidneys and on women who need Cesarian sections to successfully give birth. Some of the film’s most striking imagery includes children screaming in terror, their hands raised shaking above their heads in holes in the ground as bombers assail the hospital; the mass of discarded objects that clutter Dr. Catena’s humble house, things which he has no need for as he spends sleepless hours working as the only doctor in the hospital – Dr. Catena refers to Jesus’ invocation to give up all you own to follow him as he shows the camera this ephemera; and the Nuba peoples having a party for the fun of it that includes joyous dancing and extravagant, garlic-soaked feasting in the midst of their day-to-day terror.

Both the terror these people are living under and the heroic self-sacrifice of the Mother of Mercy staff are so affecting, you are compelled to act to do what you can to help them. Our politicians need to see this film, so they can press for action by our government. We all need to see it so we can press them for the same. May Dr. Catena and his staff’s story inspire a generation of physician-missionaries. Sometimes all that stands between afflicted people and certain death is the bravery of a few good women and men. “My life is not more important than these people’s lives,” Dr. Catena says with resolute frankness. He is fueled by a stalwart, self-giving, Christian faith, but that matter-of-fact statement is the essence of all self-sacrificial action, regardless of creed. Oh, that we were all so taken.

–Elijah Davidson