‘Heart of Nuba’ coming to heart of Breckenridge
May 6, 2018
A documentary that opened in theaters last month, "The Heart of Nuba," wraps itself around the story of Tom Catena, an American physician who's been working, at times illegally, to save lives in war-torn Sudan.
As a local connection, Breckenridge physician Dr. Craig "Doc PJ" Perrinjaquet, who also does humanitarian work in the country, got a photo credit for lending some of his shots to the flick.
With its debut last month, the documentary is not widely available in theaters. But because Breck Film Fest has a showing for its next Summit Film Society screening, people can catch it from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday at Breckenridge Theater, 121 S. Ridge St. After the screening, Perrinjaquet will host a short discussion.
Doors open 30 minutes prior to the film. Tickets are $12 each online at BreckCreate.org or by calling the Breck Create ticket office at 970-547-3100. Space is limited.
The Nuba Mountains are a remote location along Sudan's border with South Sudan, where the people are frequent targets of aerial bombings by the Sudanese government.
Directed by Kenneth A. Carlson with former journalist Maria Shriver as executive producer, the film runs just under an hour and a half, exploring Catena's work as the only surgeon for up to 200 miles as he leads a small Sudanese hospital staff treating up to 400 patients daily deep in the Nuba Mountains.
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To say Catena, better known as "Dr. Tom," is an inspiration for his work at Mother of Mercy Hospital could be an understatement. Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, a convicted war criminal, banned humanitarian aid to the Nuba Mountains as part of his ongoing effort to rid the country of different ethnic groups.
"Part of the strategy of the genocide is a blockade of humanitarian aid so everything has to be done illegally and covertly," said Perrinjaquet, who's made numerous humanitarian trips to Sudan himself in support of both the Mother of Mercy Hospital and in other capacities. "Some organizations working there don't even want to be named."
But none of that has stopped Catena, nor his small team of hospital workers who have defied the government ban and bombs to continue on as the region's only hospital, even though the government targeted the hospital in a 2014 bombardment.
"He really is walking his talk in terms of serving the people in a way I've never experienced in anyone I've ever met," Perrinjaquet said of Dr. Tom. "It's a powerful film, and my experience is it's uplifting."
Perrinjaquet said he met Catena and the staff at the Mother of Mercy Hospital during a 2011 fact-finding trip to the Nuba Mountains. He typically returns to Sudan once or twice a year, usually in the spring or fall because the roads are otherwise impassable. When he does, he comes bearing supplies.
"As we speak," he said Sunday over the phone after having just returned Friday from another humanitarian trip, "there's a shipment of about six to seven tons of medical supplies headed there that should be arriving by ground in a couple days, I hope."
Such a haul typically costs about $4,000, he added, but the truck carries enough meds to treat 30,000 people for malaria at a cost of 78 cents per treatment.
"People tip more than that for a cup of coffee," Perrinjaquet said of the price tag. "By the time you walk out the door with your cup of coffee, you've spent enough to treat 10 people for malaria, just to put things into perspective."
The film has been well received since its April release with the Los Angeles Times calling it a "gripping, inspiring documentary," and critics at the popular movie-review website RottenTomatoes.com giving it 100 percent.
There's reason for hope in Sudan, too.
The Nuba people are resilient, Perrinjaquet said. In Sudan, he sees a country with a wealth of minerals and natural resources and the people wanting to develop those resources and return to farming. Before the war, Sudan was a net exporter of food.
"If they could have a lasting peace and re-establish their markets, this isn't an area doomed to dependency," Perrinjaquet explained.
Through the film's website, TheHeartOfNuba.com, people may donate to help Catena continue his work through the Take Heart Foundation of the Mother of Mercy Hospital. The money buys more medical supplies like vaccines and syringes, supports the local school and helps prepare the Nuba people to one day run the hospital independently, including surgeries.