“The Heart of Nuba”: A Heroic Doctor Fights Against Brutal Odds in Sudan


The Heart of Nuba opens like a Sudan travelogue — a chicken struts, a woman sifts grain, a plane flies overhead. That turns as small children panic and pack into an improvised foxhole, in fear of the anti-rebel Antonov about to drop its bombs over the Nuba Mountains.

The heart of the documentary is Tom Catena, the lone physician at a makeshift Catholic hospital and a sort of less cynical, less hard-drinking Hawkeye Pierce, who treats maladies from war wounds to infant cancer. “Doctor Tom” maintains a sense of humor and belief in humanity, reserving bile for Sudan president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s terror campaign. What isn’t clear is why he’s been left there for a decade to labor without adequate help, a question never posed to the bishop who helped build the hospital and who acknowledges how onerous the job is.

If Catena has flaws, filmmaker Kenneth Carlson declines to feature them, perhaps because they’ve been friends since their Brown University days thirty years ago. Still, the doctor has earned the adulation, and a visit to a leper colony shows why. Amid a quick medical explanation, he grasps his patients’ hands. “It’s very important to touch these people,” he says. “[They] have been rejected by society, they watch their bodies disintegrating. You can come and touch them, shake their hands, pat them on the back and joke with them…they’re a part of the human race, like anybody else.”

The Heart of Nuba
Directed by Kenneth A. Carlson
Opens April 6, Village East Cinema


Click here to sign up for our weekly film and TV newsletter.