76 Days has qualified to compete for the Best Documentary category at this year’s Oscars, sparking considerable discussion on Chinese social media.
The cut and paste documentary focuses on the human stories at the core of Wuhan’s 76-day lockdown after the first documented outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
Chinese-American director Hao Wu — the man behind 2019 documentary People’s Republic of Desire — found himself unable to enter Wuhan during the lockdown, instead teaming up with video journalist Chen Weixi and one anonymous filmmaker to create 76 Days.
Through portraits of individuals — an elderly couple who were both infected but were forced to isolate in different wards, or an asymptomatic-infected pregnant woman who was ready to give birth — the film captures the anxiety felt by patients and staffers inside of four Wuhan hospitals.
“When my mother was at home, her body was already cold. 120 [China’s emergency telephone number] said it would be useless if they came,” a middle-aged female patient sobbed as she spoke to the camera. “They said you don’t have a hospital bed. We can only put you at the hospital gate.”
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The film has been getting a lot of international press since its screening run in virtual cinemas around the US and Canada, with critics speculating on its unifying theme’s potential to win the Best Documentary prize.
This year’s documentary category features a record-breaking 215 films (and counting) that have qualified for competition, amid special allowances that account for the impact of the pandemic on theatrical exhibition.
On China’s social media platform Weibo, users celebrated the film’s qualification.
“I cried all the way when I watched it in the middle of the night,” one Weibo user wrote. “Every frame is powerful. The extraordinary in the ordinary. There’s a lot to say, but everything is summed in one phrase as described in the film: stay strong.”
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In related news, Days and Nights in Wuhan, a documentary that captures the work of Wuhan’s frontline workers, will also be releasing in Chinese cinemas on January 22nd. A number of stars are promoting the movie, including Jackie Chan, as well as TF Boys member and Better Days star Jackson Yee.
With China’s handling of the pandemic still a recurring subject of international debate, Chinese audiences seem hopeful that these documentaries will bring a more human-centric understanding to the story.
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