76 Days (2020 | USA | 93 minutes | Weixi Chen, Hao Wu, Anonymous)
76 Days is a pretty remarkable documentary. It records a Wuhan, China hospital in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Filmmakers were there from the beginning of the coronavirus breakout (Wuhan’s lockdown began on January 23, 2020 and lasted for 76 days), recording almost everything that happened inside the hospital over that time. There’s no narration, just a continuous stream of doctors and nurses treating patients as well as they could over the most intense days of the pandemic. 76 Days shows how far humans can be pushed to their limits in a time of crisis and what physical and emotional toll it puts on everyone.
There is a fascinating juxtaposition showing the chaos inside of this Wuhan hospital and the calm outside of it. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people but you see streets and bridges empty because everyone is staying inside to quarantine. What you see inside the hospital are doctors and nurses in head-to-toe PPE, being pushed to the brink for every moment, until the curve begins to flatten.
Even though this hospital seems to have a pretty high survival rate, the human toll it takes on doctors, nurses, and patients is overwhelming. You see so many different scenarios come in: parents forced to quarantine before they can take their newborn home, language barriers due to patients coming from regions with different dialects, people who are too antsy to stay in their hospital beds. Early on, you get the sense that there is far more unknown than known about the novel coronavirus yet they push through and do their best to contain the contagious disease. You even see delivery drivers wearing hazmat suits.
It’s difficult to imagine how a film like 76 Days would depict an American hospital, when so many patients distrust medical professionals and any minor inconvenience to limit the spread of a deadly virus is an infringement on their personal liberty, and believe whether or not you spread the disease to your friends and neighbors is a choice everyone should make for themselves.
When the seventy-six days passed and Wuhan was able to end their lockdown because the curve was flat enough to do so, it felt like a community could enjoy that relief because it was a group effort that everyone took seriously. Because it was.
76 Days is now playing in SIFF’s virtual cinema.