76 days: the history of the pandemic is written before our eyes

‘76 Days’ Director: U.S. Media Not Showing Horrors of COVID-19 | Amanpour and Company

Wuhan Lockdown Documentary Available To Stream In USA

In the ratings traditionally made at the end of the year by movie websites and mass media observers in many countries, the Chinese film 76 Days invariably ranks among the top ten or five favorites in the documentary category. A number of experts predict an Oscar nomination for him.

The film, directed by three directors – Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous – was made available in the United States this month on multiple streaming platforms. In New York, for example, it can be seen by “visitors” of the online version of the Film Forum arthouse center.

“Little Penguin” and Jade Bracelet

The filmmakers turned on their cameras a few days after the announcement of a lockdown in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province of Hubei. On January 23, 2020, it was installed in this metropolis with a population of about 11 million inhabitants and ended on April 8, that is, after 76 days. Wuhan is considered the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, from where it spread to other regions of the planet.

Filming took place in four hospitals in Wuhan. In the opening segments of the film, we see signs of panic and chaos. Crowds of agitated, disoriented people trying to break through the cordons of staff and police inside the hospitals where their sick relatives are placed. Doctors and nurses who dress from head to toe in elaborate “armor” and look like astronauts in spacesuits. Exhausted staff with no sleep or rest.

“This is the first draft of the history that is being written before our eyes,” notes the Atlantic magazine, “it is difficult to watch and at the same time not to come off, it is full of real life and not embellished”.

Several medics in protective gear roll a stretcher down the hospital corridor. The shrill cry of a woman who recognized the man lying on them – “Father!”.

A restless, sociable old patient with dementia, a fisherman by profession, who rushes home and stubbornly searches for an exit to the street, each time is patiently returned to his room.

An elderly couple, who were separated during hospitalization, placed in different wards, asks a nurse to help them communicate via smartphones.

A pregnant woman who tests positive for COVID-19 is admitted to the maternity ward. The nursing staff gives the born healthy girl the affectionate nickname “little penguin”. The nurses are moved by the baby’s great appetite. Tears of happiness are on the faces of the mother and father when, after quarantine, they are “handed” a newborn.

Another venerable patient is discharged from the hospital to the applause of the staff and asked what he will do first when he is at home. “I’ll hug my great-grandson!” He says.

Psychologically, the most difficult mission of medical workers is to transfer personal belongings of deceased patients to relatives. In one of the episodes, an inconsolable woman is handed a jade bracelet to her deceased mother..

There are many such emotional, heartbreaking scenes in this film..

Jumpsuit as an easel

As noted by the Film Forum website, the viewer is not told in which of the four hospitals in Wuhan this or that episode was filmed. The filmmakers do not name the names of patients, doctors and nurses. The viewer learns that patients are assigned numbers during hospitalization, which helps maintain confidentiality and makes it easier for staff to logistic – especially when it comes to transmitting operational information about a patient’s health to relatives or notification of the death of a family member.

The episodes in which the hospital staff show their best qualities are remembered. The paramedic inflates rubber gloves like balloons, draws emoticons on them and writes wishes for recovery, and then attaches them to patients’ beds at night. One should see the joyfully surprised faces of patients when they discover a surprise in the morning..

The medical specialist patiently feeds a seriously ill patient with a spoon, for whom it is difficult to breathe due to severe damage to the lungs. But he really wanted his favorite dish – manti, and the nurse dips small pieces in hot water to make it easier for the patient to swallow food..

Mutual help and gestures of solidarity help the staff, locked in four walls, to endure the colossal workload and daily risk of infection. One, an amateur artist, paints the protective overalls of colleagues with images of cherry blossoms. Others paint their favorite foods on their overalls, promising co-workers a treat when the pandemic ends..

At the end of the film, a huge city stops its incessant run in order to honor the memory of those who died from coronavirus with the sounds of sirens.

76 days. Courtesy photo

“The documentary about the Wuhan lockdown was too real for my father, who was born in this city, and it lasted only five minutes, but I’m glad I watched it in full,” says columnist for American radio station NPR (National Public Radio) Laura Gao.

“In some places, such as in Wuhan, things are doing relatively well now,” Laura Gao further notes. – But in most places on the planet, including the United States, where I now live, no one really knows what will happen tomorrow. “76 days” is not just a retelling of a specific situation with a covid, but also a kind of warning call “.

Human perspective

“I think that in the West we think more about numbers and statistics, about political realities,” Hao Wu said in an interview with the show business mouthpiece Variety. “But for me, the human perspective of the covid, personal stories and experience are more important.”.

76 days: the history of the pandemic is written before our eyes

Hao Wu edited the film while in the United States using footage filmed by his colleagues in China. He is originally from Wuhan and currently lives in the United States, dividing time between New York and Atlanta..

IndieWire columnist David Ehrlich spoke with Hao Wu for FilmForum. He asked the director: how did it happen that he coordinated the work on the film remotely?

“Lockdown in Wuhan was announced on the days when I flew from New York to Shanghai to celebrate the Chinese New Year with my sister,” said Hao Wu. “The experience was surreal. In a huge city, not a living soul on the streets. Traveling around the country proved to be impossible, and I returned to New York. Soon my father died of cancer in Wuhan, but I could not come to say goodbye to him. The planes did not fly. One of the TV channels offered me to make a film about the outbreak of the pandemic, and I agreed. My co-directors, Weixi Chen and an anonymous person, began filming what was happening in four hospitals in Wuhan and sending me fragment by fragment using iCloud (a service for storing and transferring data). It took some time to download large video files, and my co-authors actually made the instant decisions of where and what to shoot. They sent me about 300-350 hours of unique filming. “.

As Hao Wu noted, he started the project with the aim of shedding critical light on the initial reaction of the PRC authorities, which silenced the increase in infections and prohibited the publication of the opinions of truth-seekers who warned of the danger of a pandemic..

“We wanted, in particular, to include in the film a reportage piece from the wildlife and seafood market in Wuhan, from where, according to many experts, the Covid-19 virus began to spread,” Hao Wu said. relations between the PRC and the United States escalated, and the Chinese authorities tightened the screws in the mass media. My partners in Wuhan broke off cooperation with me for fear of trouble. We had to rethink the concept of the film. We decided that by focusing on the state of affairs in hospitals, we will achieve our goal – we will truthfully tell about the initial period of the pandemic. “.

76 days. Courtesy photo

David Erlik wondered why one of the partners, Weixi Chen, kept his name in the credits, and the third director wished to remain anonymous?

“Weixi Chen is a well-known journalist in China, a reporter for the Chinese version of Esquire magazine, and an aspiring filmmaker,” Hao Wu replied. “He also took risks, but still decided to keep his name in the credits. As for the anonymous author, he made a different decision to protect himself from possible troubles, and we treated him with understanding “.

American observers stress that the film “76 Days” has not received official approval from the Chinese authorities.

“Taking into account the limitations of creative freedoms in China,” writes the Los Angeles Times, “the very existence of this film can be considered a miracle … More likely always, in the coming years we will see more than one film on this topic, but for this moment “76 days”, imbued with a sense of the moment, have considerable power to influence the viewer “.

“We were not going to make heroes out of doctors and medical staff,” said Hao Wu. “Let the viewer draw their own conclusions. A pandemic is like a war, it brings with it death, fear, selfishness, cynicism, but at the same time it highlights the good qualities in people. For me, the most important is the episode when the doctor puts his hand on the patient’s arm and says: “Now we are your family.”.

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Voice of America Service in New York.

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