University of Iowa grad produces Oscar-nominated film on Yemen conflict

There were half a dozen roadblocks that could have kept “Hunger Ward” from being filmed, according to producer Michael Scheuerman.

Getting visas so the film crew could travel to Yemen to make the documentary took six months. Hours before that journey was to begin in January 2020, Iranian military officer Qasem Soleimani was killed by U.S. forces, raising fears that the situation abroad may preclude the documentary crew from doing its work. 

The filmmakers, including University of Iowa graduate Scheuerman, prevailed, bringing “Hunger Ward” to the screen. The film directed by Skye Fitzgerald is now one of the five movies up for Best Documentary Short Subject at the April 25 Academy Awards.

A poster for the academy award nominated short documentary "Hunger Ward."

The film documents what the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund refers to as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.” In Yemen, where civil war has been raging for six years, “more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population — (are) in need of humanitarian assistance,” the U.N. said.

The 40-minute film follows health-care workers and children in therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, illustrating some of the day-to-day struggles experienced over the course of the month Fitzgerald filmed in the country.

In the United States, Scheuerman is happy to see his movie being used to raise awareness of the situation in Yemen.

That’s because the U.S. has lent support to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, despite early promises to end involvement.

Michael Sheuerman is a University of Iowa 1988 graduate who is also a producer on the Oscar nominated short documentary "Hunger Ward."

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Backed by Western allies, the Saudis have engaged in myriad airstrikes as well as an ongoing blockade that prevents aid from reaching Yemeni civilians.

“Hunger Ward” is an important reminder of what’s at stake in an African nation that is not often in the headlines, according to a Michigan State professor who has been using the film to spread awareness.