In a special occasion, In-Docs gets an opportunity to talk with the co-director of 76 Days film, Hao Wu. Together with other directors, Hao Wu produces an epic documentary film which reveals a story about the situation in Wuhan City during the earliest outbreak of COVID-19. A timely film that describes the mark of historical event, 76 Days can teach us how to overcome limited challenges in producing film, and how to use the power of emotions for creative lead.
This documentary film is filled with heart-wrenching scenes. From a health worker who lost a parent but was not able to take care of the deceased, an elderly couple who got separated from one another, an old dementia patient who keeps wanting to go home, and even a young couple whose baby gets separated right after the birth.
Despite chaotic and challenging works, the medical workers in the film still display strong commitments, perseverance, and constant discovery of bravery, which help soothe patients during their desperate moments.
Everyone fights a battle to survive from COVID-19 infection and for the opportunity to continue living; just like millions of people are currently experiencing in the world right now and that makes the viewers relate to this timely film. What is quintessential in the film is the elements of humanity and hope — which is also what we are currently trying to maintain in real life right now. The filmmakers succeed to stir the viewers’ emotions through displays of rough and raw footage that capture compassion, intimate connections and uplifting spirits expressed by the medical workers, despite the challenge they faced at work.
CHALLENGES IN FILMING
76 Days is the result of epic collaboration of Chinese journalist journalist Weixi Chen and an anonymous co-director, and a filmmaker based in the US, Hao Wu, who puts together the footage into an enjoyable film. In the Q&A session organized by In-Docs which took place via Zoom on 5 March last week, Hao Wu said that the shooting process was not without problems.
Hao Wu was coincidently in China during the early outbreak of COVID-19 virus to visit his family. Doubting whether he should stay or return to the US, Wu got in touch with local journalists and filmmakers who decided to do investigative reports to this unknown event, while Wu left to return to the US. He then maintained a long-distance production with the co-directors.
Among the challenges were the restriction which was applied during the lockdown. The filming started one week after the lockdown. One of the filmmakers was already in the hospital during the first day on lockdown, but he did not bring his camera with him. His co-director also had technical difficulties in getting supporting equipment for filming and must wait for one month instead of just two days in a normal situation.
USING EMOTIONS FOR CREATIVE LEAD
Editing process was a major challenge for Wu. He realized that he was supplied by so much footage that made it difficult to pick a story.
“We initially wanted to do a global story. The challenge was to pick global or individual stories,” said Wu.
In the beginning, it was difficult to follow characters because of restricted access. But over the time the filmmakers were able to track and visit them during their stay at the hospitals, and it was from there that the story was developed.
“We kept on thinking about how precious and emotional the footage were. The more I followed the story, the more I saw how Wuhan’s story was being replayed over and over (in other parts of the world). In the end, we just wanted to get the best footage that told a human story and not an investigation”.
Wu admitted that he initially got overwhelmed by the footage.
“I would cry almost every morning, because the emotions were so raw. It was really difficult to work on this film. But at the same time, crying daily was like a therapy for me. I could release my emotions”.
His creative process was driven by how much his feelings were moved when watching the footage. It was those raw emotions expressed by the characters that made Wu to select which footage to be included in the film and accelerated the editing process.
“I just saw what images have moved me, or brought tears to my eyes, then I was following my emotional flow, and chose the images that moved me, and captured the footage that made me emotional to the audiences.”
This intention to create an emotional story that can resonate to the rest of the world then become the drive to release the film.
CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY FILM
76 Days film was first screened at Toronto’s International Film Festival on 14 September 2020. Right after the release, the film received praise from all over the world. The film itself sets an example of an epic documentary film that was produced with such limitation in all aspects but is profoundly moving. It does not compromise aspects that are considered as ‘a good film’.
The film also reminds us of the real challenges in the healthcare sector. This film can be used as an advocacy tool to provide better health facilities and protection for the medical workers, as they are vulnerable to stress and negative stigmatization.
Despite its timely manner and abundant unused footage, Wu said he would not make another documentary film about COVID-19.
“I don’t think I will be able to make something moving with those footages. I was advised that less is more. I would be eager to see other Covid films with other stories. There will be more coming this year,” said Wu.
76 Days the film is available for streaming online on Apple TV and DogWoof. The film is now also screened in cinemas all across Singapore.
Watch the recorded Q&A Session with Hao Wu on our YouTube channel: