In a year devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possibly appropriate that the first major full-length feature documentary is analysing the outbreak that happened in Wuhan. Hao Wu’s 76 Days, a 93-minute film made from footage of chaos and panic in the initial days of the outbreak in the city, had its world premiere at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
The documentary spans the period from January 23 to April 8 this year when Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was placed under lockdown following the outbreak.
The film was made by Hao Wu, a New York-based Chinese director, who collaborated with two China-based reporters as co-directors – Weixi Chen and another associate identified only as “Anonymous”.
The film’s production notes say, “China is imposing strict controls over the narrative of its Covid-19 response, and the footage contained in this film is unprecedented in its access.”
With the Chinese government reportedly trying to conceal its failure to have warned the world of the onset of the impending health crisis, the film’s creators requested the first viewers at the TIFF to “refrain from discussing identifying details contained in the film” to “avoid any potential government interference with the film, and with the filmmakers in China, before the film’s wider release.”
Hao, the filmmaker, recalled spending the Chinese New Year holidays in Shanghai as “a panic was setting in all over China”, adding, “It became increasingly clear that the local government had lied and suppressed whistleblowers to conceal the outbreak. It also became apparent that the situation was dire in Wuhan – people were dying, hospitals were overwhelmed, and medical personnel did not have adequate protection, so they too were getting sick and dying. The country was angry. I was angry.”
The filmmaker’s teammates filmed in four hospitals and shared the raw footage online with Hao, who then took it forward. It shows doctors, nurses and paramedics striving to control a torrent of patients pouring into hospitals even as health authorities seek to downplay the outbreak with repeated calls of: “Don’t panic.”
The film that was eventually put together underlines human suffering at the hands of a deadly and unknown virus as well as the heroism of medical personnel struggling to save lives in a dystopian backdrop of an escalating health crisis.
Written By – Shilpa Dey
Image – Google