Two new movies about Wuhan were released on Friday, in the Eve of the anniversary of the 76-day shutdown in this central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected. How they were released and who is their audience totally contrast.
The first, a government-supported film praising the sacrifices in Wuhan, It will be presented throughout China, and is intended for audiences that strongly support the Communist Party’s response to the outbreak. The second, a grim documentary about the pandemic by artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, has been forced to scour the internet for viewers, showing the party’s influence on the global film industry.
The Chinese government has tried to control the narrative and evade blame about the origins of the pandemic. He has created a story of triumph against the virus through television shows, social media and books, celebrating nurses, doctors and government-supported vaccine companies. Any criticism of the mistakes made in the beginning is silenced.
The government-supported film ‘Wu Han Ri Ye’ (‘Days and Nights in Wuhan’) includes contributions from 30 filmmakers portraying the suffering of the city’s 11 million residents, medical staff and frontline workers while they were fighting the virus that began to spread through the city in 2019.
Ai’s ‘Coronation’ has been rejected from festivals, cinemas and streaming services, including Amazon and Netflix, he said. The artist attributes the censorship to fears of offending the party, which controls which films can be shown in China and which Chinese films can be shown abroad.
“I don’t care about film festivals,” Ai said at a virtual press conference on Friday hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. “But they are a platform, they should present substantial films. That is your duty. If this duty is not fulfilled then I feel ashamed for them ”.
The closure in Wuhan, imposed on January 23, 2020, eventually spread to surrounding areas in Hubei province, confining 56 million people to their homes.
Director Cao Jinling’s ‘Days and Nights in Wuhan’ previously premiered in Wuhan and had a national premiere on Friday. The film echoes the official Chinese line that the measures it took, including the shutdown, gave them valuable time to prepare for the pandemic. Critics point out that the communist party’s usual secrecy and weak control measures allowed the virus to initially spread.
It is unclear if there are plans to present the film abroad.
We wanted to record the journey of fighting the COVID-19 epidemic through a film. Some of the details, including the intensive care and anxious waiting, the heartbreaking goodbyes and the hopeful rebirths, could move viewers, ”Cao was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV.
In the trailer for the film there are medical personnel repeatedly expressing their determination to defeat the outbreak.
I have a huge love for my hometown and I will do whatever it takes to save it, ”says an ambulance driver.
Ai’s movie addresses the same story from the perspective of Wuhan construction workers, couriers, doctors and residents. Like the other film, it is a collage, but uses images sometimes filmed surreptitiously by friends, colleagues and amateur videographers, some of whom remain anonymous to avoid repercussions from the authorities.
His film offers a rare snapshot of the pain suffered by COVID-19 patients in China, with images of people unable to breathe as doctors in protective suits try to save them.
Hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed at the height of the crisis, and Wuhan has most of the 4,635 deaths from the disease recorded in China.
On Friday morning, after a few-attended performance of ‘Days and Nights in Wuhan’, Wang Yu said the film had revived memories of the trauma of the closure and fears of what may come.
It’s hard to describe it, a year has passed since then, and remembering now is still painful, ”said 31-year-old Wang. Relatives of her husband who died in the outbreak appear in the film, she said.
There is the mutated virus, there is fear. There is a second Chinese Lunar New Year celebration that we are going to have to go through like this, ”he said.
Things are a little better than last year, but I am afraid, it is not completely over. So we are still under the influence of the virus, fear and terror ”.
It has been primarily virus-free since the end of its shutdown, although smaller outbreaks have occurred that have sparked new containment measures in many other Chinese cities.
The Chinese government has tried to cast doubt on the hypothesis that Wuhan is the origin of the pandemic, pushing widely accepted theories such as that the virus came from outside the country, possibly brought by American soldiers.
In the city there is now a team of specialists from the World Health Organization who were sent to investigate the origin of the virus.
A panel of experts commissioned by the WHO criticized China and other countries this week for not acting swiftly to control the initial outbreak, prompting Beijing to concede that it could do better, but also to defend its response.