New documentary 76 Days provides raw, intimate look at stricken Wuhan
Chinese-American film-maker's documentary on city's lockdown exposes weak government response and concealment of outbreak
When Covid-19 first emerged in Wuhan a year ago, Chinese-American film-maker Wu Hao never imagined that the rest of the world would end up in a worse state than its country of origin.
He is the director, writer and producer of new documentary film 76 Days, which opens here on Jan 23 and is set during the city's 76-day lockdown and deep inside the front lines of the crisis in four hospitals, telling raw and intimate human stories that bear witness to the death and rebirth of Wuhan.
The coronavirus has since spread faster and wider than anticipated due to a variety of factors, from weak government responses to individual complacency.
Wu told The New Paper during a Zoom interview from New York, where he lives: "I am frustrated with a lot of different countries. I was a molecular biologist by training so I have a huge respect for scientists, but many countries did not pay enough attention to science and that is why we are in the huge mess we are in."
He flew to Shanghai on Jan 23 last year - the day China imposed a complete lockdown on Wuhan to contain the virus outbreak - to celebrate Chinese New Year with his parents, both of whom had recent cancer procedures.
He recalled how he spent the holiday in confusion, frustration and anger, as panic was setting in all over China.
Wu, who returned to New York before the US closed off air traffic from China, said: "It became increasingly clear that the local government had lied and suppressed whistle-blowers to conceal the outbreak.
"I grew angrier still when my grandpa was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer soon after Chinese New Year and passed away a month later. I was unable to say goodbye to him in person."
When the pandemic reached New York in late March, a shocked Wu felt as if he was reliving the Wuhan stories all over again under the Trump administration - underprepared government, lying or scientifically ignorant politicians, scared residents and exhausted doctors and nurses with no protective equipment.
He said: "Hopefully, with the incoming Biden administration, there will be stronger leadership and a more unified response in dealing with (Covid-19)."
Wu was compelled to make 76 Days because "Covid-19 is personal" - and his efforts have paid off. Not only did it receive universal critical acclaim, working on the project provided him with "therapy amid uncertain times".
While Wu edited the film remotely and in secret from New York, his co-directors Chen Weixi, a video reporter for Esquire China, and an anonymous Wuhan reporter were risking their lives shooting footage in Wuhan hospitals.
He said: "It was physically demanding as they had to put on multiple layers of personal protective equipment while filming.
"Emotionally, to watch people get worse and die in front of their eyes and feel completely helpless was a really traumatic experience for them."
He added: "Covid-19 is not just a bad flu. It kills, and destroys individuals and families.
"I hope people can understand that one of the things that enabled Wuhan to emerge really quickly was because people were willing to show kindness to one another, and there were many medical front-line workers who made a huge sacrifice."