In the Variety Streaming Room, “76 Days,” director Hao Wu and producer Jean Tsien explained to film awards editor Clayton Davis how they developed a story about an ongoing, global catastrophe and how they pulled humanity from faceless subjects.
“When Hao first showed me the three scenes, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is the first time I’m going to work on a film you can’t identify anyone,’” Tsien said.
“76 Days” captures Wuhan, China on lockdown when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. It focuses on the individual stories of healthcare workers and patients who struggle to survive on the frontlines of the crisis.
“All of the best scenes, the characters in them were masked up,” Wu said. “We can really focus on one emotional story bit for each character. So every time that character reappears, even though you cannot tell their faces, but because their stories are so emotional, so unique… they can still keep track of what the story is about.”
When the project first began, the filmmakers went back and forth, wondering what the documentary would be about. Wu said they thought about doing a compare and contrast between New York City and Wuhan, possibly something global. Bogged down by political overtones and statistics, they realized the need to focus on individual stories. What was lost in so much of the COVID-19 coverage was humanity. And in the midst of logging “true individual human suffering,” they found a message of hope.
“In this film, luckily, after such drastic measures of locking down an entire city of 11 million, Wuhan saw the end of that after 76 days,” Wu said. “As long as we have the resolve to work together to battle this, we will get through this.”
“76 Days” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020 and was acquired by MTV Documentary Films.