If "Hunger Ward" wins an Oscar Sunday night at the 93rd Academy Awards, it could help the short documentary save lives.
Coproduced by 1984 Stillwater High School graduate Mike Scheuerman, and directed by Skye Fitzgerald, the 39-minute doc was shot in two pediatric malnutrition hospitals in Yemen in 2020.
Its main "characters" are health care workers and two children, Abeer, who was 6 and weighed 12 pounds during filming, and Omeima, who was 10 and weighed 24 pounds.
"All our partners have said Skye masterfully captures the spirit of each person," said Scheuerman, who has lived several places in Minnesota and raised his kids in Northfield. He now lives in Oregon with wife and Oscars date, Kelly (Schwartz) Scheuerman, also a Stillwater native.
"That's the goal, allowing their humanity to come through in a respectful fashion."
More than a year later, both girls are doing much better, Scheuerman reports, although their country is not.
"We look these kids in the eyes. We want to have Western audiences see it and feel it," said Scheuerman, whose film draws attention to the humanitarian/starvation crisis in Yemen, created by a Saudi Arabian blockade that keeps food and medicine from reaching Yemeni people. (The documentary can be viewed on Pluto or Paramount Plus.)
A longtime executive in the technology industry, Scheuerman came to filmmaking late. Other than a sojourn in the Dominican Republic — where being the same size as Robert Redford earned him a gig as the superstar's stand-in on the set of "Havana" — Scheuerman had no movie experience when he met Fitzgerald, whose short film, "Lifeboat," appeared at Oregon's Bend Film Festival in 2018.
"Skye happened to walk up to the table I was eating at and we struck up a conversation," recalled Scheuerman, who had left a job at Facebook and, looking for a project, agreed to help with "Lifeboat" public relations.
A year later, Fitzgerald returned to the festival. By that time, Scheuerman had realized the persistence, creativity and organization he'd used in tech also were the skills needed to produce a movie.
"We started talking, just us, and that's how I got into it all," Scheuerman said. "At first, I was just going to be an executive producer [on "Hunger Ward"] but then I dived in and we've been splitting tasks, working together on this for about two years."
Scheuerman's duties ranged from schedule-making to preparation for the very real possibility that Fitzgerald would be taken hostage by a Yemeni warlord.
Nowadays, he's drawing attention to the crisis in Yemen, lining up chats with journalists such as Nicholas Kristof and Christiane Amanpour, as well as TV host Trevor Noah and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who visited hunger strikers currently protesting at the White House.
Scheuerman's work on "Hunger Ward" has been as much about activism as moviemaking (links at the film's website, hungerward.org, suggest how you can help). But the Minnesota native, whose fingers are crossed that an Oscar would give the film a vast platform for that work, has been bitten by the filmmaking bug.
His next step could be directing his own project or producing another one, but he believes he can make an impact in the world with movies.
"This is what I told the Oscar people when they interviewed me last [month]: This is my first film and I'm at the Oscars and it's all surreal but it happened," said Scheuerman.
"I'm realizing that this is what I've dreamed of doing for a long, long time."
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367