TIFF 2020 film ’76 Days’ captures the struggles of patients and frontline medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic

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Toronto, Sep 23 (Canadian-Media): Directed by U.S.-based Chinese-American screenwriter-editor, Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous, the Chinese documentary film 76 Day captures the struggles of patients and frontline medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic inside Wuhan’s hospitals at the onset of the pandemic.

The anguished cry, “Papa!” with which the film opens plunges straight into the turmoil and agony of the coronavirus, as a group of medical workers race through the corridors of a hospital. The grief-stricken daughter is one of those workers, arriving at her father’s room too late to bid him goodbye. Her colleagues restrain her, console her, try to calm her; they’ll need her to stay strong for the afternoon shift.

In the opening sequences, the spectators feel like they are watching science-fiction, zombie horror, apocalyptic thriller as hospital workers covered in PPE race from one patient to another. But this a reality of 2020.

The hospital doors are blocked with a desperate crowd screaming for but overwhelmed workers can only admit a few people at a time.

On January 23, the city of 11 million people went into a lockdown that lasted 76 days, and filmmakers with strong camera work captured a crucial record of life inside Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak of COVID-19 as if they were still images.

With the camera’s main focus on medical workers and patients in the face of fear and uncertainty, the director of the film also portrays perseverance and humor when medical workers use magic markers to decorate their plastic outfits.

The fact that this aching scene unfolds without a single face fully visible makes it all the more haunting as most of the figures are shown covered head to toe in personal protective equipment. Almost every frame of 76 Days was accompanied by a front-line report due to the work of three directors in getting this shot in four hospitals in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus was first identified.

The inevitable value portrayed in this film about the history that is being made alone and together is not just to future generations alone, but also to those who are here and present now.

There’s nothing overtly political or accusatory about the footage in 76 Days; it’s not a policy-focused exposé or timeline, but the coverage of the horror was not government approved.

With no time to talking-head interviews or long-view commentary, 76 Days is a work of true direct cinema capturing the moving camaraderie of the medical, the gratitude of their patients, is the collective acknowledgment of loss.

With a strong track record of making Chinese documentaries that resonate with international audiences, Wu teams in this film with Wuhan collaborators Weixi Chen and others, along with US producer Jean Tsien (Asian Americans).

76 Days will be a lasting work of art for future generations trying to understand this pandemic.

Wu received his BSc. in biology from the University of Science and Technology of China, his MSc. in molecular biology from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and his MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. His films as director include Beijing or Bust (05); The Road to Fame (13); People’s Republic of Desire (18), which won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at South by Southwest; the short All in My Family (19); and 76 Days (20).

A video reporter for Esquire China, Chen’s documentary shorts have been supported by Tencent News and First Documentary Lab, and have won awards at the Hong Kong International Festival and the Caixin Media Awards. 76 Days (20) is his feature directorial debut.

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