'Hunger Ward': Facing the Ramifications of a Forgotten War
By: Areeb Zuaiter/Arab America Contributing Writer
‘Hunger Ward’ marks the last in Filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald’s humanitarian trilogy that explores war and displacement. The film made it to the shortlist in the Documentary Short Subject for the 2021 Academy Awards last month. It premiered on Ploto TV earlier this month and is now available to stream on-demand.
What is unique about this short film, is the long-lasting impact it leaves you with as a viewer. For instance, the film opens with a quotation from Alan Moore that carries loads of heaviness and that offers you a terrifying sense of what you’re about to experience.
The opening underscores the overarching theme around which the film centers. It is the famine that comes as a consequence of war. Fitzgerald purposefully starts and ends his narrative with the horrific footage of a child departing life. “It’s hard to watch a child die in front of you, whether you were the viewer or holding the camera.” Fitzgerald comments, “And you know what? It ought to be”. After all, Fitzgerald seeks to honor the experience of those in the room who invited him and his crew to document their experience.
The Final in Fitzgerald’s Humanitarian Trilogy
Prior to ‘Hunger Ward’, Skye Fitzgerald crafted two short documentaries. The first is ‘50 Feet from Syria’. Produced in 2015, the film focuses on doctors working on the Syrian border. ‘50 Feet from Syria’ also made it to the Academy Award documentary shortlist.
The second is ‘Lifeboat’ (2018). It encapsulates African and Middle Eastern refugee experiences. In 2019, it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject.
Premiered last year (2020) at the virtual HollyShorts Film Festival, ‘Hunger Ward’ came to complete The Humanitarian Trilogy that examines themes related to plights generated by conflict. Set against the backdrop of the forgotten war in Yemen, ‘Hunger Ward’ documents the efforts of two women fighting to stop the spread of starvation.
Aida, Mekkia, Abeer and Omeima Offer Hope in ‘Hunger Ward’
‘Hunger Ward’ still allows for a glimmer of hope through the characters it features. The film offers a close perspective on the relentless work of two females, Nurse Mekkia Mahdi and Doctor Aida Al Sadeeq; two females pouring their hearts and soul into rescuing the children that come into Aslam clinic in North Yemen and Sadaqa hospital in South Yemen.
On the other hand, there is the presence of two girls who seek help in those medical services; Abeer and Omeima. Although extraordinarily charming, the girls suffer from malnutrition. However, the way they respond to aid offset the difficulty of watching children strive to death.
Abeer and Omeima are both success stories. They are now thriving because of the work of Nurse Mekkia and Doctor Aida. Filmmaker Fitzgerald was very keen on not getting that lost. His aim is to showcase a beam of light under these incredible circumstances.
“There is hope and there is joy, even though we witness passing on; which is grievous in nature,” Fitzgerald explains. “It’s a little trite, but children are the future.”
‘Hunger Ward’ in the Forefront of War in Yemen
Our understanding of the War in Yemen may be limited to the concept of a civil war over beliefs and ideologies. ‘Hunger Ward,’ however, reminds us of the profound damage caused by such wars.
In a recent discussion around ‘Hunger Ward’, the Founder of Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, Aisha Jumaan, shed light on the war that broke in Yemen. According to Jumaan, “Like other countries in the region, Yemen was aspiring for change and reform.” In 2011, the country started toiling towards a more democratically elected government. Although bumpy, there was no sign of war.
In the fall of 2014, protests started again over corruption and increased prices. Houthis, at that point, took the opportunity and marched into Sanaa to take control. In early 2015, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi resigned from the government and fled to Adan. He then withdrew his resignation. The Houthis followed him to Adan in March 2015. The UN Envoy for Yemen, Jamal bin Omar, announced that there is peace. A new par-sharing deal was supposed to be signed in Riyadh. That was when a US-supported Saudi-led-coalition started strikes in Yemen. And that is when the Russian-supported Huthis retaliated.
“People would call the Yemen war a civil war,” Jumman comments. “I would disagree with that. It has become more of a regional war with international support.
Director Skye Fitzgerald underlines Article 14 of the Geneva Convention. As a matter of fact, the article explicitly states that starvation as a tool in combat is prohibited. It also states that it is a war crime to take any action as a war in a party that causes starvation. “The famine in Yemen is a war crime that’s being perpetuated today, with our tax dollars,” Fitzgerald concludes.
There are multiple ways through which ‘Hunger Ward’ offers concrete action through its website.
First, there is a legislative tool. Through the film’s website, you’ll be able to contact senators and congresspeople and engage Biden-administration. Second, there are links to organizations that are doing fundamentally Important work in the country to whom you can donate.
In addition, you’ll find an agency that the ‘Hunger Ward’ film team created where you can donate directly to the two clinics that were showcased in the film. As a matter of fact, the donations will support the efforts of Dr. Aida Al Sadeeq at Sadaqa hospital in South Yemen and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi’s work at Aslam clinic in North Yemen. The donations made, are meant to directly support these healthcare workers and their efforts to provide vital care to children facing extreme malnutrition in Yemen.
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Areeb Zuaiter is an Arab American filmmaker whose work focuses on art, identity, and social issues. She was nominated for Sony’s Outstanding Thesis Award. Her debut short won the Jury Prize at the European Film Festival. And her latest documentary won multiple international awards. Alongside working on her debut feature documentary and her upcoming short narrative, Zuaiter works as an adjunct professor at American University.