Writer and director Jon Noble’s short film NZARA ’76 tells the story of two doctors from the World Health Organization who arrive at a quarantine in Nzara, South Sudan to diagnose an as yet unknown illness, which spreads by blood and leaves those infected dead within a week. Noble is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where he received a production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2012 to make the film. The story is reminiscent of the origins of Ebola, also discovered in 1976, which spreads via human body fluids. A vaccine is still in trial stages. In the film, the doctors develop a blood test to determine whether someone has been infected with the disease.
Dr. Louis M. Weiss, an expert in infectious disease and professor and researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, advised filmmaker Jon Noble on the scientific accuracy of NZARA ’76. Dr. Weiss has spoken in an interview with CBS’s Michelle Castillo about a blood test which could determine whether a person’s illness is caused by virus or bacteria; this is the first step to stopping a disease from spreading and can prevent the administration of unnecessary antibiotics, which are only effective in the case of bacterial infections. Of administering unnecessary antibiotics Dr. Weiss says, “This exerts a selective pressure on the environment as a whole and on all the bacteria that all of us carry,” which can ultimately render certain infections antibiotic resistant.
Since winning the 2012 production grant, NZARA ‘76 has been an official selection of the Imagine Science, LA Shorts, and Rochester International Film Festivals. It was a winner in the Student Short category at the Raw Science Film Festival in 2014.
NZARA ’76 is available to stream in its entirety below, and available for teachers in the Sloan Science & Film Teacher’s Guide with accompanying discussion questions and resources.
In 2015, Noble was awarded the Sundance-Sloan Commissioning Grant, a cash grant of $20,000 to support writing and an additional $5,000 for a science advisor, for his feature script TYPHUS. Based on the true story of Polish doctors who faked an outbreak of typhus during World War II, the script is in development as a feature film.