“She won’t make it past this year”
Director Kief Davidson‘s Oscar nominated documentary short Open Heart is a complicated film. What on the surface shows the journey of eight Rwandan children to the only free cardiac hospital in Africa ends up transforming into a commercial for the non-governmental organization Emergency at its center. This is admittedly a generalization on my part, yes, but one I don’t think can be ignored. No disrespect to Angelique, Marie, Joas, Bruce, Claire, Francine, Louise, or Dorianne, but their plight has kind of been hijacked to service the work of a hospital in dire financial straits. It’s a tough situation and Emergency’s Salam Center is doing honorable, amazing things, but a very fine line is being toed.
What starts with Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza—one of Rwanda’s two cardiologists—explaining the prevalence of rheumatic heart disease in African children due to a penicillin shortage quickly turns into an underdog fight for charismatic kids about to fly 2,500 miles from home for a chance at a future. There isn’t money for family to accompany them or enough to send back the bodies of any who may succumb to the physical stress of surgery. Only a hope and a prayer can keep them company besides Rusingiza’s optimistic disposition traveling for support and to keep his relationship with the hospital alive so he can continue sending patients in need.
Open Heart is at its best when showing little Angelique bravely give blood, smile as she is goes under anesthesia, and glow at the sight of her father via Skype post-surgery. She and the older Marie become marked as leads early on—both extreme cases wherein Emergency founder Dr. Gino Strada admits a certain degree of pessimism for full recovery. Watching the children rally around themselves with three-year old Bruno even finding the energy to dance a bit is a wonderful depiction of faith, kinship, and love. Theirs is a human story worthy of sharing with the world. It’s an against-all-odds miracle in the making made more poignant by showing its effect on the patients, families, and doctors involved.
Why then must it be ruined by the heartstring tug for charity? There is too much politics on display—seating us at a board meeting where Strada asks Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for the financial assistance he promised doing nothing but trivializing the work being accomplished. We just watched open-heart surgery performed on a six-year old girl and instead of sticking with her recovery and that of her friends we are instead forced to sympathize with the establishment that provided the service. I hoped I’d be saying, “Wow, Emergency is worth every penny private investors give it”. Instead I just heard the film declare, “We just saved eight kids for free and are getting screwed by the Sudanese government. Please help.”
I guess that’s what documentaries are for, though. They show us an issue we wouldn’t otherwise know in hopes to educate. It’s just unfortunate my thanks for clarity on the subject at the start turned into anger once I felt manipulated by exploited kids. I’m not saying this was Davidson’s intent nor that Emergency had a hand in shaping his message—it’s simply my reaction to a depiction of an otherwise miracle of charitable souls trying their best to make the world a better place.