Hunger Ward (2021)
Director: Skye Fitzgerald
Imagine losing a child. It is the most unfathomable pain, the most incomprehensible of injustices.
The guttural wailing of mothers who have just seen their children die is a sound you can never unhear, an explicit experience of grief that is unforgettable. In Yemen, a country torn to pieces by a war with Saudi Arabia, such grief and loss is a daily occurrence as children are ripped from their families by the spoils of armed conflict and the severe malnutrition and starvation that it causes.
Hunger Ward, Skye Fitzgerald’s Documentary Short Subject nominee at the 2021 Oscars, takes place from within the ravaged country. Told from two medical facilities dubbed “Hunger Wards” for their priority of treatments to young, malnourished and often starving children – one in North Yemen and the other in South Yemen – this 39 minute film places us in the midst of an ongoing battle between humanity and famine, between ordinary people and the wars waged by their governments at their expense. It is a remarkably powerful, perspective-shifting, empathy-inducing documentary that is simply unmissable.
Attached intimately to the daily activities of a doctor and a nurse, each of whom specialise in treating the malnourished of their respective regions, Hunger Ward peels back the curtain to show the crisis in Yemen in all of its horror and pain, staying fixated on its subjects as they attempt to feed, measure or inject malnourished children, or attend to those who are dying.
New born babies, and children no older than six, are presented in the very last moments of their lives, the effects on their families recorded in an unflinching manner that demands you pay attention. The effect is simply unforgettable. How could you possibly overlook grief and trauma that is so unfathomable and yet so clearly present in this film’s every frame?
At the forefront of Hunger Ward is humanity, not the specifics of international politics. Though undeniably linked to politics through how it records the victims of war, Fitzgerald’s documentary is focused more deeply on the human aspect of the terror and how the universal truths that connect us all – such as the love of a child – are what truly matters. For as much as Hunger Ward is anti-war, it is much more an expression of the things that make us most human, a reminder of our universal truths as a species.
We see the doctor and nurse grieve for patients they’ve lost to malnutrition, tears filling their eyes as they are confronted by grieving parents or as they scroll the pictures in their phones of children who’ve died in their care. We see children so malnourished they can’t even muster a smile. There are no wasted moments in Hunger Ward, there is no time to follow tangents or try to cover “the bigger picture”, because the purpose of this film is to outline how there is no bigger picture than the lives and deaths of our fellow people.
So often it is much too easy to overlook the losses of lives we so rarely hear about, or are told about in a way that presents the information as an “otherness” to ourselves. But as Hunger Ward so pointedly presents, there is no such thing as an “otherness” when it comes to humanity. We are all connected by our fundamental qualities as a species, and as the leaders of countries decide to drop bombs for reasons connected to aspects of our existence that exist only within our minds (borders, money, resources, etc.), Hunger Ward is a stark reminder that we are each individually and collectively responsible for ensuring such outright terror or guttural pain is avoided at all costs, or more idealistically eliminated altogether.
“Enough. Enough of war. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. War plus children equals deprivation. Deprived of everything. If only our voices could be heard. The voices of people who are simple and humble. We cannot say we are used to seeing this. We cannot say we are used to the deaths. Never.” – Dr. Alda Alsadeeq
To join the campaign to end US intervention in Yemen and to donate directly to the two malnutrition wards in this film visit hungerward.org