76 Days, a verité documentary, is full of harrowing images. A medical worker, covered by a hazmat suit, cries out as her father's body is moved to the morgue. A group of desperate people pushes against a door into the hospital as hospital staff begs them to clear a way to let patients in. A container full of cell phones buzzes with messages that will never reach the ears of loved ones. The film, urgent and personal, captures the Covid pandemic in all its horror.
Seeing the city of Wuhan at the beginning of 2020 is often a reminder of how much confusion there has been about the virus and how far things have come. The terror and isolation of the moment captured in 76 Days is at a time when Wuhan was alone in the world and most of us didn't know what lied ahead. This is history capture in the moment. The film was made without government approval, being shot discreetly at the hospital. They capture humanity in true horror. The faces on-screen will stand for so many around the world that have faced the same.
As a result of not having government approval, the film often avoids clearly identifying people. This works in a curious manner to create a universal account of the pandemic as well as a very specific one. The film is fragmented as well, choosing to show moments that speak to the tasks medical workers faced at the hospital rather than building a narrative around them. Seeing the film makes it impossible not to understand the exhaustion and desperation many medical workers are feeling.
The spirit of these workers though pulls them through. One tells her husband she wanted to be a hero as a reason why she agreed to work in the ward that first started taking patients in. Politics are largely left out of the film, allowing for this account to resonate with anyone who sees it. The film is somewhat slapped together but that only adds to the urgency of the work. This is the history we need to learn from as quickly as possible.