4 stars

76 Days (2020)

Documentary Feature/Finalist
Director: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous
Screenwriter: Hao Wu
Producers: Hao Wu, Jean Tsien
Executive Producers: Bryn Mooser, Roberto Grande, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Naja Pham Lockwood

Premise: On January 23rd, 2020, China locked down Wuhan, a city of 11 million, to combat the emerging COVID-19 outbreak. Set deep inside the frontlines of the crisis, “76 Days” tells indelible human stories of the healthcare workers and patients who struggle to survive the pandemic with resilience and dignity.

As we live through a crisis that seems to only be exacerbated by misinformation and vitriolic political spats spilling out from social media and onto the streets, it is far too easy to lose perspective. Fortunately, 76 Days provides perspective a lot of people desperately need in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a harrowing documentary that will refocus your attention past the asinine entitlement of anti-maskers and the ludicrously dangerous contingent of Americans who cry hoax at every mention of the disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans as of this writing. What 76 Days achieves through its fly on the wall documenting is to put human faces on the superheroic actions of healthcare workers. It does so with dignity and grace as we watch medical staff in a Wuhan hospital try to stem the flood of horror at their doorstep and the emotional toll it takes on them.

The film presents a first-hand look at the horrors that faced Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak and the result is sobering and affecting. As someone who has kept a close eye on the events of this year, it was still shocking to see the level of protective gear the doctors and nurses were using. Shots of the staff using duct tape to create airtight concealment between their gloves and protective gowns were particularly sobering. Overall, the verité style of the documentary itself gives 76 Days an intimacy that opens the doors to showing the healthcare workers and patients alike at their most vulnerable.

Seeing the various interactions the film’s subjects have with their patients showcases how equally heroic and heartbreaking their work is on the frontlines of a seemingly endless fight against COVID-19. Likewise, the frustration of patients waiting to be seen in an overcrowded hospital and seeing patients wrestle when confronted with their own mortality yields images that will stay with me for a long time after watching 76 Days. The sheer exhaustion felt by the workers and the patients throughout the film permeates the screen in every scene.

76 Days is an immersive and emotional document of the early days of the global pandemic. It functions as a time capsule of a period that has (and continues) to test all of us in many ways. As we live in a time where compassion and decency toward our fellow humans seems in short supply, this documentary serves as a gauge of our ability to empathize. Since the documentary doesn’t include any candid talking head segments or rely on any voice over narration, it creates a strong immersion for the viewer. This makes it hard to deny the hardships of others.

It’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide whether the footage in 76 Days will help them contextualize what’s happened in 2020 to all of us. For me, 76 Days is a harrowing and heartbreaking documentary whose bleak subject matter is usurped by the resilience and heroic fight of the healthcare workers in the film.

76 Days is screening virtually at the 29th Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 8-18.

About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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