Since the coronavirus outbreak began in December, reactions in the Western Hemisphere have ranged from confused to flippant (jokes about Corona beer) to racist and xenophobic (the severe drop in business in Chinatowns all over the U.S.). In part, it’s been a symptom of just how remote the outbreak feels — though there are at least a thousand confirmed cases worldwide, more than 74,000 have been infected in mainland China (killing more than 2,000 people), and reports have generally focused on less human aspects in favor of the outbreak’s effects on the Chinese film industry. A new short documentary film, Wuhan: The Long Night, seems primed to properly convey the magnitude of what’s happening.
Filmmaker Lan Bo initially went to the city of Wuhan to shoot a feature film. The lockdown to try to contain the virus, which occurred on January 23, meant the crew were forced to change their plans. Stranded in Wuhan, they decided to use their time and efforts to document what was happening around them.
The resulting short, which took off on the Chinese platform Weibo before crossing over to Western social media (and is available to watch online), offers a real look at Wuhan since the city was effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Though Wuhan boasts a population of 14 million people, the cellphone footage captured by Lan and his crew is of a ghost town. Few, if any, people roam the city, the streets and highways are almost completely deserted, and, in the short’s most striking sequence, a man leans out of his window onto an empty street, singing “My Motherland and Me.”
“They want to do something meaningful,” Lan said. “Since the lockdown, there hasn’t been a video presenting such a panoramic view [...] I feel that these are going to be valuable images for historical reference and for other documentaries.”
Spurred on by the success of the short, Lan plans to make a feature-length documentary about Wuhan in lockdown, focusing on how the people remaining in the city have been affected.