Review by James Lindorf
Most directors seek to entertain; to some, like Cristopher Nolan, it is all about the art of cinema. Then there is director Skye Fitzgerald who is looking to change the world. His Humanitarian Trilogy, which includes 2015’s Oscar® shortlisted 50 Feet from Syria, which focused on doctors working on the Syrian border. The second film, Lifeboat, documented the search and rescue operations off Libya’s coast and was nominated for the best documentary short Oscar® and Emmy®. The final installment (for now) “Hunger Ward” is poised to do it again and just might take home the golden statue. You can go to the Hunger Ward website to learn about upcoming film festivals and free online screenings.
“Hunger Ward” is 40 minutes of attention-grabbing, heartbreaking, anger-inducing spectacle. I know that is a term typically reserved for summer blockbusters but trust me, you won’t be able to take your eyes off this film unless it is to look for a tissue. “Hunger Ward” follows two health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a globally forgotten war. Filmed inside two of the busiest therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, Dr. Aida Al Sadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi do everything they can to save the lives of hunger-stricken children, and way too often, they are unsuccessful. Yemen desperately needs these women and others like them because the feeding centers are the only thing keeping the country from suffering a nationwide famine.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Security Analysis Unit created the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification to improve food security analysis and decision-making. Areas can fall into one of five classifications based on food insecurity that at least 20 percent of the people there are experiencing. The five levels are minimal/none, stressed, crisis, emergency, and catastrophe/famine. Yemen has 29 million people, and there isn’t a single part of the country above level two. By April of 2021, there will be an estimated 11 million people at a crisis level, another 5 million at the emergency level, and 45 thousand on the brink of death at level 5. Since the Civil War began in 2015, it is estimated that over 100,000 citizens have died from starvation. Without the intervention, Fitzgerald is begging the world for, that number could easily double or triple in the coming years.
As you can tell, I was sufficiently moved by “Hunger Ward” and I believe the same will happen to anyone watching the film. The ones it won’t touch are the people who wouldn’t watch or are doing so under protest. “Hunger Ward” captures a day in Dr. Al Sadeeq and Nurse Mahdi’s lives, which brings them both success, failure, anger, and sadness. There are many patients seen at the wards, but two of them receive the spotlight. Abeer, a six-year-old girl who weighs 12 pounds, and Omeima, a 10-year-old girl who weighs only 24 pounds. Almost as heartbreaking as their weight is their comfort level in the situation. It may occasionally take some coaxing, but this situation is regular enough that instead of constant tears or hangry outbursts, they offer indifference, peppered with the occasional smile or laugh.
The film community is already recognizing the quality of Hunger Ward. It was an official selection at multiple Oscar-qualifying film festivals. It is a finalist for best short at the 2021 Social Impact Media Awards and is nominated for best documentary short at the 2020 Critics Choice Awards. “Hunger Ward” may win all the awards or could lose them all, but as long as it makes an impact and convinces a few people to help, then I bet Fitzgerald couldn’t be happier.