Monday, October 19, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: 76 Days

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

76 Days
Directed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous
Festival Information

The entire world has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. There are still many questions about how the virus can be spread and how it affects different people. What many do know, however, is that the virus originated in Wuhan, China. The city, which underwent a 76-day lockdown beginning in January, has been widely vilified as the cause of the international pandemic. This documentary offers a vivid and unflinching look at what it actually meant for a local hospital to deal with an outbreak of this scale.

There is no narration to introduce this film, which opens as nurses covered completely in protective gear struggle to manage the influx of new patients in the hospital. There are multiple moments when they go to open the door to the outside, where crowds have gathered, ready to push their way in, unhappy to wait for bureaucracy to allow them to be treated. From the other side, nurses plead with their future patients to understand how overrun they are and promise that they will in time admit everyone. There are few breaks for any of the staff, and they take on an extraordinary responsibility in caring for those unable to have any family members or loved ones by their side.

The mere fact that this film exists is incredible, and many viewers will surely wonder how it could have been filmed in a Communist country like China. Those questions are never addressed in a film that is fully free of any commentary or analysis and instead brings its audience fully into an impressively organized operation. The hospital staff is well-prepared for something they’ve never had to encounter before, and it’s affecting to see how they go beyond what might be expected of them, keeping phones and other personal items in clearly-labeled bags in the hopes that they might be able to return them to next of kin once the outbreak subsides. This response feels distinctly human even though we see so little of each person featured because of just how much protective equipment covers their bodies.

Spending time with sick patients in a hospital might be too much for some audiences right now, which is understandable. This film’s title covers the period of Wuhan’s lockdown, the end of which indicates that the city made it out of its worst period. Seeing the dedication and resilience with which these people care for their patients, including one particularly argumentative grandfather not content to sit by himself in his room, is inspiring, and helps to make this global crisis feel universal. To see the way medical professionals give so much of themselves when they’re already asked to do an extraordinary amount of extra work is affirming, and the kind of positivity that I would imagine is needed by so many right now.


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