December 31, 2021 – I like stories about heroes and this movie has plenty of them, as well as exhaustion, hopelessness and sorrow for the fallen. This Netflix documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel shows doctors, nurses and other medical care workers on the front lines of the first battles in the war against Covid-19.
This documentary takes an international approach to the subject, highlighting the similarities and differences in health care system responses to the emerging pandemic from the beginning through the first year in different countries.
I've seen several of these films, but this is the first one with actual footage from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic. Wenhua Lin, a video blogger who volunteered to transport medical personnel in his car early on in the pandemic filmed his trips. When it became more evident how dangerous this was, he switched to transporting medical supplies, rather than medical care workers who were in contact with people infected with the disease.
These videos from inside Wuhan itself are revealing. Both Lin, and a London documentary filmmaker, Hassan Akkad, who volunteers at a London hospital, show similar scenes of their respective deserted cities. The comment is made that the deserted cities look like scenes from a science fiction movie. In addition to being a hospital volunteer, Hassan is also a refugee from the Syrian civil war.
Social issues involving racial inequality also span the countries. In the United States, a doctor and social activist Armen Henderson leads protests in Miami after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Back in London, Hassan directly confronts Prime Minister Boris Johnson over a policy that discriminates against refugees who are risking their lives by working in the health care system. Johnson reverses course and changes his policy.
In Britain, everyone gets fairly equal health care, but not so in the U.S. where Dr. Henderson ministers to the homeless, and in Brazil, where emergency medical technician Renata Alves takes ambulances into the favelas (slums) of Sao Paulo, whose residents have long been neglected. The crowded, busy streets where the ambulance slowly makes its way is in stark contrast to the deserted streets in London and Wuhan.
In Sao Paulo, doctors lay in bed, dying alongside the patients they had been taking care of. In Tehran, Iran, Sara Khaki and Mohammed Reza Eyni are anxious about Covid and suffer from the isolation of being separated from their friends and family, some of whom later die in the pandemic. In Delhi, India, Nupur Upadhyay and Mohit Aggarwal, worry about the upcoming birth of their baby in the midst of the pandemic.
The movie also follows the efforts of the leaders of the World Health Organization to fight the pandemic, which gets pushback from President Donald Trump, who doesn't like testing, because testing reveals more people infected. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian biologist who is the Director-General of the World Health Organization, is angry over this opposition to testing, saying that in order to fight Covid, we need to know who is infected with it. Even now, years after he stated the obvious, testing is still inadequate in the United States.
The film also follows researchers at Oxford University who helped develop the Astrazeneca Covid vaccine, now in use in many countries. It shows the effort it took to develop a vaccine against a coronavirus (something which had never been done) in one year, when the previous record was four years.
Like all such movies, there are little triumphs here and there to go with the big triumph (the vaccine developments) and the big tragedies (deaths on a massive scale). The survival of patients who had been at death's door, a Covid test that turns out negative, a healthy baby born ...
What haunts me most about these movies are the lifeless eyes of the patients struggling to breathe. They look so helpless against this virus, so hopeless. It seems a miracle that any of them survive. This is a movie firmly stuck in the past, however. The Covid virus continues to mutate and spread. As long as there unvaccinated people, and it seems there always will be, Covid will be with us. Covid is perfectly suited to thrive in a world where there is more division and less cooperation.
This movie calls for unity in an increasingly divided world. It calls for facing reality in a world increasingly dominated by propaganda, conspiracy theories and speculations reported as facts, and politicians who assign blame along racial, ethnic, religious and national divides for political gain. It points out that we are all in this mess together, while many just ignore it or deny that it is real. This movie is about how this all started. It rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.