By Eric Talbert

As Executive Director of EMERGENCY USA, I’m incredibly proud to share a bit about Open Heart, a short documentary that tells the story of eight Rwandan children who embark on a life-or-death, cross-continental journey to receive high-risk open-heart surgery. Their final destination, the Salam Center in Sudan (founded by EMERGENCY), is Africa’s only free-of-charge, state-of-the-art cardiac hospital.

By watching the journey of these brave children and their families, viewers come to understand more deeply the necessity of accessible health care and the importance of second chances. We are honored that Open Heart has been shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination in the Short Documentary category.


  • Title: Open Heart
  • Director/Producer/Writer: Kief Davidson
  • Running time: 39 min.
  • Location: USA/Republic of Rwanda/Republic of the Sudan
  • Human Rights Issue: Access to health care

Background: At least 15.6 million people are currently estimated to suffer from rheumatic heart disease of whom about 300,000 die each year. Unfortunately, that burden falls disproportionately on children and young adults, like those featured in Open Heart.

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a chronic heart condition that results from rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is the result of an untreated strep infection, which can be easily prevented and controlled with the administration of penicillin. Untreated RHD can lead to serious heart valve defects that require heart valve repair or replacement surgery. This life-saving treatment is largely unavailable and too expensive for most patients.

In light of this, in 2007, the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery was built and has since served over 41,000 patients from 24 countries.  The Center’s centralized location in Sudan and its role as a referral center has also stimulated collaboration and solidarity between different ethnic and cultural groups in a region marked by decades of conflict.

Behind the Scenes: Open Heart originated as Kief Davidson was (and still is) working on a feature length documentry about Partners In Health. During this time, he received a photo of Angelique, a six-year-old Rwandan child suffering from RHD, who would become Open Heart’s focal point. Her photo was submitted by Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda’s only public cardiologist who would later be featured in the film alongside Angelique. Shortly after meeting Angelique and her father in Rwanda, Kief became dedicated to sharing the young girl’s story, in the hopes that her life might be saved.

In Kief’s words, his efforts were about “doing justice to the incredible lengths her remarkably resourceful father and heroically dedicated doctors have gone through just to provide to Angelique what every kid should have: a decent shot at life.”

Primary Audience: This film aims to inform and inspire people with interests in public health, international relations, and human rights.

Content/Style/Voices: This short film is packed with beautiful footage of Rwanda, Sudan and the story is developed by a handful of inspiring people, including a few resilient children. We hope that viewers leave informed and motivated to achieve positive change.

Get Involved

Find out more about rheumatic heart disease and how to support people in Africa living with RHD.

Support the film by attending one of the screenings listed below. Screenings are free but require an RSVP:

NEW YORK CITY – 11/28 at Tribeca Screening Room, 6:30pm
Moderator: Ryan Harrington of Tribeca Film Institute
Q&A: Kief Davidson, Director of Open Heart
RSVP Required:

SAN FRANCISCO – 11/29 at New People Cinema, 6:30pm
Moderator: San Francisco Film Society
Q&A: Kief Davidson, Director; Cori Stern Producer, Open Heart; Sandy Herz, Skoll Foundation / Sundance Institute “Stories of Change”; Eric Talbert, Executive Director EMERGENCY USA
RSVP Required:

LOS ANGELES – 12/2 at Ray Stark Family Theater, 3:00pm
Moderator: Anna Gilmore of EMERGENCY USA
Q&A: Kief Davidson, Director
RSVP Required:


Eric Talbert is the Executive Director of EMERGENCY USA, the San Francisco-based operations of an international organization orginally founded in Italy, dedicated to providing free-of-charge, quality health care for civilian victims of war and promiting a culture of peace, solidarity and respects for human rights.

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