The 93rd annual Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, April 25, was one of the smallest in its history in terms of audience size because of social distancing limitations in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, the importance and magnitude of the event in Hollywood, California, will forever loom large in the mind of Skye Fitzgerald, a 1993 Eastern Oregon University graduate.

Fitzgerald attended the ceremony as the director of the film “Hunger Ward,” which received an Oscar nomination in the best short documentary category. The ceremony, which about 300 people attended, was a stark contrast to the 2018 Academy Awards that Fitzgerald also attended when his film “Lifeboat,” which focuses on search and rescue operations off the coast of Libya, also received an Oscar nomination for best short documentary.

Fitzgerald said the April 25 Academy Awards was “a smaller, more intimate affair” with less dialogue.

“Hunger Ward” chronicles doctors struggling to save the lives of starving children in war-torn Yemen. The film did not win an Oscar, but Fitzgerald emerged from the Academy Awards grateful to have been part of the event.

“Whether or not you walk off with an Oscar, anyone who gets in that room is part of the highest celebration of an art form. It was a special celebration regardless of scale,” Fitzgerald said. “Even though it was diminished, it elevated cinema.”

ABC TV’s broadcast of the event showed Fitzgerald sitting at a table when the five nominees for best documentary short were announced. Fitzgerald said he was not aware he was on camera at the time.

Audience members, all of whom had been tested multiple times for COVID-19, did not wear masks, but those outside the venue did.

Fitzgerald was present when actress Glenn Close did a surprising dance to a 1990s song by Experience Unlimited after answering a trivia question about it. The dance was one of the most talked about events at the Academy Awards.

“It was hilarious. It felt spontaneous,” said Fitzgerald, who was EOU’s 2019 graduation speaker and now lives in the Portland area.

Fitzgerald said he spoke with Jon Batiste at the event. Batiste co-composed the music for the Disney animated film “Soul,” which won an Oscar for best animated feature and best original score.

“It was a thrill to have a spontaneous conversation with such a talented individual,” he said.

Fitzgerald said “Hunger Ward” has received much more distribution and attention since the nomination in March. He said he desperately hopes this can lead to resolution of the conflict in Yemen and the end of the blockade triggering the starvation of its people.

Fitzgerald said he is working with an alliance of organizations and individuals in an effort to achieve this objective.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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