If the title 76 Days reminds you of the zombie film 28 Days, you’re onto something. This harrowing documentary traces the course of the COVID-19 pandemic within four hospitals during a 76-day lockdown at the disease’s epicenter in Wuhan, China, and some early scenes — such as sick people clamoring at a locked door — are reminiscent of a horror film. Except this is scarier: As the U.S. approaches a winter in which the virus appears to be spreading unchecked, the crowding and chaos in Wuhan’s wards may be a glimpse of our immediate future.
The health care workers here are all shrouded, head to toe, in protective suits with gloves, booties, masks and face shields, so don’t expect to be able to tell who’s who, or even which hospital is which. For once, though, such details don’t much matter. The point of the film is to put viewers in the middle of the disaster — which it certainly does. The footage was shot by Weixi Chen and an anonymous co-director in Wuhan, who uploaded their video to “the cloud” daily by circumventing the government’s Great Firewall (intended to constrict internet access). The movie was then assembled by co-director Hao Wu, a Chinese filmmaker living in New York City.
76 Days is an amazingly timely and gripping document, and Wu and his collaborators capture not just the overarching crisis but also moving human moments: exhausted workers napping in the hall, telephone calls to loved ones, a worker disinfecting items from a box of mobile phones and ID cards left behind by the dead.
Some patients — one of them a woman about to give birth — are followed to give the film some continuity and narrative, but the impact of the personal stories is secondary to the impression of an unparalleled collective effort. It makes one wonder whether egocentric Americans will even be able to come close to this unity of mission when our time comes.
Available to rent via FineArtsTheatre.com