Before 2020 became the trash fire of a year it is currently today, there were three whole months when the world was normal, relatively. Or if we re-contextualize that statement, there was a time when the city of Wuhan was completely alone and cut-off from the world at large, forced to combat a disease which evolved into a global pandemic. “76 Days” is that documentary, a miraculous product made with a limited budget, without government approval and serves as a snapshot of a time when the health officials and the city itself battened down the hatches and the health officials worked to combat this crisis.

Shot entirely as cinema verite, 76 days wastes no time in throwing you in the middle of the conflict. We follow a medical official in a hazmat suit wailing in pain as her father’s body is wheeled towards the morgue; her exhausted colleagues try desperately to keep her in control so that she can resume working. Plastic boxes overflowing with mobile phones and ID cards of the dead are seen on a table as the camera focuses on a door handle jiggling, and two officials desperately knocking back towards the door and pleading those tired and scared people to cooperate, reassuring them they will be admitted as soon as they are able to.

official image from 76 Days

From here the documentary ’76 Days’ created by Waixi Chen moves with unflinching immediacy, following the hospital officials as they try to treat the ones in most need, while also doubling as the absent family members of those who are separated from their loved ones. There are moments captured which delivers chills down your spine – a conversation between an official and her patient, intubated and unable to speak, the conversation happening only by nods and firm hand holdings, the official reassuring her to stay strong. Another scene follows an old man hotly debating with an official, emphasizing that he isn’t sick, if he was he would have been aware of it, and the hospital staff patiently and calmly trying to make him understand – all these scenes are sadly familiar to us now, as of November 2020, but it is still emotionally potent all the same.

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There are moments of happiness too – one patient finally going home after being cured and the hospital officials rejoicing along with him, an infant born immediately after her mother had been tested positive, and he’s been taken care of by the officials, 76 days acutely shows us the sense of collectivism among the Wuhan residents – a sharp contrast to the individualism shared by the rest of the world. The fact that such raw and acutely real footage exists is edited so coherently and done within the span of these many months is nothing short of incredible. The immediate potency of such a video journal is affecting in the micro-level. Footage of people in isolation, joking that they are finally able to see their face, when the masks are off, contrast with people talking on the phone, reassuring themselves to stay strong – is affecting in ways which make this movie hauntingly prescient.


On a deeper and personal level, this movie hit me way harder than I think I even expected. Me personally being in isolation with minimal symptoms is a tough proposition, but having my father admitted to a hospital and unable to visit or even see him, that is a separate form of heartbreak and loneliness, hard to be put into words. 76 days somehow tapped into those raw emotions I have, and what the documentary is successful in showcasing is a feeling of hope and the power of positivity that can exist in human beings. The doctors and nurses shown here are incredible and heartwarming humans, the final scene of a nurse interacting with the family of the dead is heartbreaking. While there are moments I would have liked to be captured on screen more, especially the aftermath of those 76 days, at the end though 76 days succeeds in ways very few documentaries can – it paints an unflinching yet hopeful video journal of the current crisis.

I don’t know if I will ever watch this documentary again, but this is recommended viewing for anyone still downplaying this pandemic – this is a very real and very scary disease. Everyone please wear a mask, wash and sanitize yourself, and stay on top of this, take care of your family. Because conversing with your mother behind closed doors wearing a mask, conversing with your father in a hospital via video calls, telling an unknown health official to take care of your dementia addled father who is scared and unable to go home – these aren’t situations anyone should be in.

’76 Days’ Official Trailer



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