In January 2020, the New Jersey-based filmmaker Nanfu Wang traveled with her young son to her native China to visit family. As fate would have it, the country was about to face the explosion of Covid-19, a public health emergency that would naturally envelop the entire world.
Wang, recipient of a “genius” grant from MacArthur, quickly started working on a film about the crisis. In the same breath, by HBO, pays particular attention to how the Chinese government – and later the US government – instinctively responded to Covid by using propaganda to shape the narrative surrounding the pandemic.
Wang appeared at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary event, explaining that her motivation for making the film “really witnessed the discrepancy between what the Chinese government told the world was happening and what the reality actually was.”
Chinese government officials downplayed the seriousness of the rapidly growing disease and initially denied that it could be transmitted from person to person. They also punished anyone who dared to contradict the official story. Wang and producer Jialing Zhang called in film crews in China to capture what was going on.
“We had to quickly put together a team on the ground, some of them we had never worked with before,” Zhang noted. “And then Nanfu and I would… [confer] with them… on a daily basis.”
The film draws a parallel between China’s “information management” approach to Covid and the Trump administration’s efforts to downplay the seriousness of the disease. Trump compared Covid to the seasonal flu, and even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s most prominent public health official, initially told the American people that masks were not necessary to contain the transmission.
“That’s Where the Title” In the same breath because in many ways it’s two sides of the same coin,” said producer Julie Goldman. “We started working on the film together in January and quickly realized that what was developing here was also pretty scary. And we knew we had to capture that at the same time.”
Come back Tuesday for the panel video.