76 Days: A raw and intimate fly-on-the-wall documentary of the early days in Wuhan
4.5 out of 5
5 minutes into this new documentary, '76 Days' I was not sure I could watch it. The opening features a grieving relative who has just lost a loved one to the COVID19 virus. It is harrowing to witness the loss. It is difficult to watch the staff physically holding the woman to stop her from touching, from seeing her loved one for the last time. It is grim. And yet, it is strangely life affirming.
The story of how the film came to be is interesting enough to perhaps one day become the subject of its own film. In doing some research, I found that in the earliest days of the pandemic, some hospitals actually welcomed the presence of the media to help get the word out about what was happening. Hao Wu was there doing research for a pandemic film for a U.S. network when he met two other reporters, Weixi Chen and another who has chosen to remain anonymous and they agreed to collaborate until a media crackdown in late March forced that to come to an official end. After returning to the U.S. and quarantining in Atlanta, Hao began putting together a rough cut of their footage, shot at four different hospitals, and which was smuggled digitally past officials.
The hospital staff are the heroes in this film. Their dedication to helping people is staggering, even in the face of a critical lack of resources. What is to be done when a patient is in imminent need of intubation but the equipment required to do so is not there? Pushed to the brink of exhaustion, these medics do everything in their power to take care of their patients, but it's not always enough. We see them gowning up. We see them writing their names and drawing pictures on their PPE because they are indistinguishable from each other. As such it is hard to know who is who as the film progresses.
The closest thing that the film has to a recurring character is “Grandpa,” an elderly retired fisherman with a form of dementia who continually attempts to leave the hospital and go home. This puts yet another burden on the staff when they are forced to chase him down before he makes it to an exit, and then have to deal with him weeping as he begs to be left alone. Even the most forgiving of people might get a little tired of this after a while. But as we see the staff carefully leading him back to his bed, they demonstrate a capacity for kindness and patience that would be remarkable under ordinary circumstances.
The film has been made in such a skilful and gripping manner that even those suffering from COVID news fatigue will find themselves caught up in it. More importantly, the film will be of great value to future viewers as a time capsule from a key moment in history—one that is undeniably grim and nightmarish, but also contains enough small triumphs involving people coming together for the common good to make it an oddly hopeful and optimistic one as well.