Corona could hardly be more timely as director Mostafa Keshvari touts his trapped-in-an-elevator drama as the first COVID-19 movie of the coronavirus era.
"The idea came to me when I was in an elevator reading news about Chinese tourists being attacked, and I thought I'm going to make a movie in an elevator," Keshvari tells The Hollywood Reporter on Monday. The thriller, shot on a soundstage in Vancouver and already edited and ready for sale, uses the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China, as a symbol to explore fear and racism among trapped apartment tenants.
Corona follows six unlikely neighbors stranded in their building's elevator at the first stages of the COVID-19 crisis. They quickly suspect a seventh neighbor, a Chinese newcomer played by Traei Tsai, of having the coronavirus and likely to infect them after she also boards the elevator.
Corona was shot handheld in one take for realism, and Keshvari encouraged his cast to improvise lines from his script to underline their fright at being both trapped in an elevator and fearing possible coronavirus infection. "You see the rawness of the characters. They talk over each other and their fear becomes real," the director says.
The ensemble cast for Corona includes Emy Aneke, playing a black elevator repairman; Zarina Sterling as a millennial woman; Richard Lett as a white supremacist in a wheelchair; Andrea Stefancikova as a blonde wife; Josh Blacker as the building owner; and Andy Canete as an indebted tenant.
When the indie was shot, Keshvari didn't know COVID-19 would grow to become a global pandemic now spreading across North America. "It was then known as the Chinese virus, but now everyone can have it, so it's not just one race's problem. Now the human race has to come together to defeat the virus," the director insists.
"The virus doesn't discriminate, so why should we?" Keshvari adds. The Canadian filmmaker was alerted early on to the possible devastation of the coronavirus by Vancouver having a large Chinese-Canadian community facing fear and xenophobia after COVID-19 originated in China's Hubei province and concern over his own parents being endangered by the virus outbreak back in his native Iran.
"The fear about potentially losing someone you love only adds to the haste in making a film," Keshvari says. He initially envisioned Corona having a journey on the film festival circuit, but now he's looking for streaming play.
Horizon Motion Pictures is shopping Corona to buyers, with worldwide rights available.