“It became even more important to do a direct look at death and grief and loss,” declares Skye Fitzgerald, the director the documentary “Hunger Ward.” The film about the deadly impacts of civil war has been nominated for Best Documentary Short at this year’s Oscars. MTV Documentary Films recently acquired “Hunger Ward,” which is now streaming on Paramount+. Watch our exclusive video interview with Fitzgerald above.
“Hunger Ward” is the third in a trilogy of films about refugees and displaced peoples, following 2015’s “50 Feet from Syria” and 2018’s “Lifeboat,” which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short. “Hunger Ward” focuses on the widespread famine and starvation in Yemen caused by the ongoing civil war. Much of the film follows Dr. Aida Al-Sadeeq and nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they treat children dying of starvation and malnutrition.
Fitzgerald says that both healthcare workers were instrumental in getting this particular story told. “They really were quite enthusiastic about collaborating because they felt like it was only with a greater western demographic knowing about what they were facing, and about the U.S.’s complicity in the conflict, could the geopolitics shift and change so that the famine could end,” he explains.
Capturing the many scenes of suffering a death required Fitzgerald to develop a certain level of trust with both the healthcare workers and the families that are featured in the film. However, the director says it was about more than just gaining trust. “There’s a lot of pieces to trust. I don’t see it as this sort of all-encompassing static entity,” he argues. “You have to behave consistently with those you’re collaborating with. You have to have an incredible amount of compassion… and you have to communicate on a really regular level in terms of consent.” Fitzgerald also says that part of the process of documenting the suffering was to share in the emotional experience. “When a really hard moment happened,” he recalls, “we had to share in that grief. We had to find a way to really empathize and be there as a mother experiences the grief of a loss of a child.”
Fitzgerald refers to his films — and this trilogy in particular — as a sort of “humanitarian cinema.” “Cinema can be a force for good,” he says. “But not only that. It can actually help us care more deeply and more fully and generate more empathy in the watching of the film. By the time we get to the end, we want to engage with the content of the film, which is one of the beauties of what nonfiction can do.”
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