On 23rd January 2020 Wuhan was locked down. 76 Days is a harrowing documentary following frontline health workers and their patients at the time when the pandemic first seized the Chinese city of 11 million. Amidst a world overwhelmed with information and addled by misleading headlines, director Hao Wu lays bare the simple, horrific truths of the Covid-19 predicament and how it escalated.
As the film opens, it instantly brings to the fore the tragic personal narratives behind the scientific figures, with a young woman howling to say goodbye to her dying father. Nurses restrain her, forced to abandon sympathies for ruthless protocol. Swaddled in their hazmat suits and masks, they are faceless angels, sacrificing sleep and food to combat the chaos that overwhelms the hospital. As they sanitise the belongings of the deceased, a mobile phone rings: an anxious family member unaware that their elder is in hospital. Later, these calls will be returned with dreaded news, followed by the morbid formalities of ID and death certificates. Wu circles back to frequently to “Grandpa”, an elderly patient suffering from both dementia and the virus. The nurses’ dedicated care for him proves an unwavering capacity for kindness and patience, an admirable stoicism in the face of impossible demands, with ill patients pounding the door seeking beds the hospital just cannot provide.
76 Days is heartbreaking, and one must acknowledge that this footage was only captured at the beginning of the pandemic, at a time when the global implications had not yet been fully realised. Wu and his collaborators do not attempt to sugarcoat the grim reality; the result is an honest, unobtrusive and dignified tribute to the backbone of our healthcare systems. The spontaneity of the production is evident, mirroring the quick thinking the nurses were forced to acquire in order to survive such unprecedented impact. Though difficult to watch, it is necessary, serving as a valuable reflection that should snap anyone out of complacency. Witnessing a newborn whisked away from his mother to avoid infection makes the daily death toll seem less like distant statistics, rather a desperation much closer to home.
On 4th April 2020, 76 days later, Wuhan reopens. Air raid sirens wail to mourn the deceased, but the sound does little to silence thoughts of impending and enduring grief. There is, however, hope, sprinkled quietly throughout on “get well” balloons and inscriptions on doors, and in the devotion of health workers drawing the best from each other. 76 Days cannot lighten the burden of what it represents, but it is a beacon to remind viewers that, despite the isolation and inhumanity of the pandemic, coming together in courage remains the only way to believe there will be an end to it.
76 Days is released digitally on demand on 22nd January 2021.
Watch the trailer for 76 Days here: