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With the help of covert reporters on the ground in China and direction from documentary filmmakers Hao Wu and Jean Tsien in New York, the team behind 76 Days was able to bring the bravery of frontline workers and the painful images of the impact of the novel coronavirus to a global audience.
To gain access to the highly restricted Wuhan hospitals during lockdown, two anonymous local reporters — who are also credited as co-directors on the film — used their press credentials to bypass security and shoot footage inside four different hospitals, director Hao Wu told THR‘s Rebecca Keegan during The Hollywood Reporter Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media.
But after the reporters got into the hospitals in Wuhan, the people in charge didn’t have enough time or energy to police what they could or couldn’t record. “The filmmakers pretty much roamed freely in the hospitals,” Wu said, adding that hospital staff may have even welcomed the press in order to gain more visibility into their dire circumstances and attract donations of PPE during the shortage.
The filmmakers in China and the U.S. didn’t meet in person while making the documentary but stayed in touch via the internet. The reporters uploaded their footage to a cloud service, and the team in New York was able to access it there. Due to the challenges of filming independently, the co-directors were given a lot of freedom with the style of the film. “Most of the time, they have to make snap decisions on the ground because things change so fast,” said Wu, “and whatever characters who we determine might be key characters, the next day [they] might be transferred or even passed away.”
The U.S.-based duo also explained why viewers won’t see talking heads and expert commentary that is typical of many documentaries. Beyond the logistics of editing, privacy and consistency within the film, Wu says they wanted a different experience. “Maybe we shouldn’t let them talk. Maybe we just let the viewers immerse [themselves], because that’s what’s truly unique about the footage my two co-directors have captured,” the director told THR.
Wu added that it wasn’t their goal to follow the lead of the news coverage: “This footage just takes the viewers to the eyes of the storm: You’re right there, you’re seeing everything happening, and all the complex human emotions just come out.”
Regarding the hopeful ending of the film, Wu concluded: “It felt like that should be the natural ending for a film that’s so intense, because that’s a point that everybody got together in Wuhan in real life to mourn everything they’ve lost. … So I feel like that’s a nice coda for this film, trying to remember everybody — even though this film is not political — I hope people are gonna remember this. Remember the human suffering, remember that we can be kind to each other still in catastrophes like this, and never forget this and try to do better next time.”
MTV Documentary Films also announced they are making the film available for free virtually in more than 300 North American theaters on January 23rd, the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan. This initiative is also supporting theaters that have been disrupted by the pandemic, with MTV Documentary Films donating $5 per viewing to respective theaters. A list of the participating theaters is available here.
This THR Presents is brought to you by MTV; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed in THR’s new public hub at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.
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