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#HotDocs21 Review: Wuhan Wuhan

May 8, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

Directed by Yung Chang, who was brought onboard to assemble the film out of three hundred hours of footage that was shot by a filmmaking team that ended up being locked down in Wuhan as COVID-19 started to spread, Wuhan Wuhan serves as a valuable snapshot of life in the Chinese city in the early stages of the pandemic.

The film takes us into the hospitals to show us those on the frontlines of battling the virus, while also introducing us to ordinary citizens stuck in the middle of it. We follow a variety of subjects, including a chief physician working in the ER; a young ICU nurse and one of her older patients whom she affectionately refers to as a “grumpy grandpa;” a travelling psychologist providing support to patients; as well as a mother and son who are stuck quarantining in one of the temporary field hospitals, unable to be discharged until three tests come back negative.

The narrative and emotional through-line of the documentary is a young couple that we intimately follow, Yin and Xu, who are going to have a baby. Yin volunteers as a driver for healthcare workers, allowing him to hear first hand about the severity of the virus, while Xu faces the added pressure of having to give birth in the middle of a pandemic. In one sequence that feels like something straight out of a social realist film, Yin struggles to find a crib to purchase in the shuttered city.

Compared to the handful of other documentaries made up of footage shot during Wuhan’s strict lockdown, Wuhan Wuhan feels more relaxed than 76 Days, which took place entirely inside hospitals, and it’s not a politically charged film like In the Same Breath (also at Hot Docs), which focuses on the role of government propaganda. But Chang’s film holds value as an observational portrait of what it was like to live in the city at the beginning of the pandemic. The result is an interesting and often poignant look at how life continued to unfold in Wuhan during the lockdown.

Wuhan Wuhan is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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