In-depth documentaries are already in the works about the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, with a Frontline episode due to air on PBS on April 21st and a Channel 4 commission called The Race Against the Virus among them. Surely we’ll be seeing other less-journalistic films in the future as well. In the meantime, we can depend on official news reports and the occasional video essay, like one by Naomi Klein for The Intercept that warns of her usual issue of disaster capitalism. But there’s also something simply showing real life in the time of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the New York Times‘ Op-Docs series released a short film called Self-Quarantined for the Holidays. The 11-minute documentary is directed by Chinese filmmaker Junting Zhou, who recently received his MA in media studies from The New School, and is a fairly simple portrait of his family practicing self-isolation and social distancing in his hometown of Guangzhou. Zhou went back to visit his parents for the New Year holidays and witnessed how the city was dealing with the threat of the coronavirus. He made this film about his stay using his iPhone.
When Self-Quarantined for the Holidays dropped on March 7th (along with a brief article by Zhou), Americans may not have thought much of the story, but more than a week later, this short should look very familiar to those of us in the U.S. Of course, those of us isolating correctly will realize that the stock of masks that Zhou’s mother is concerned about isn’t helpful for those who aren’t sick, and those outdoor scenes seem a bit casual for true social distancing demands. But the people in this film, most notably Zhou’s parents, seem rather calm in the midst of this disaster. Maybe because Guangzhou was more quickly in control of the situation than other places before and since.
Watch the short documentary below and see what this has been like for others elsewhere in the world. Have empathy for those who went through it before us and who continue to deal with the threat in their area. Self-Quarantined for the Holidays won’t provide any information or relief, but it might just remind you that all of us humans are in this together.