How does someone document the onset of a raging pandemic? Director Nanfu Wang found herself tasked with that very question; her response is the Sundance 2021 selection “In The Same Breath.” The documentary is an unflinching look at Wuhan during the COVID pandemic’s earliest days. It’s a portrait of how one city confronted the unknown while also focusing on the human toll that is sometimes forgotten. It sounds like something you may want to avoid, we’ve all faced so much emotional trauma, but you watch five seconds of this trailer and you are gripped.
Wang was in a unique position to tell this story. After visiting China during Chinese New Year celebrations, the filmmaker noticed initial reports of a growing COVID threat. She saw a country, and potentially a world, dealing with something beyond the norm. The director encouraged those in Wuhan to document their own experiences as well as reaching out to others. This intense dedication to the truth creates a documentary that is both striking and heartbreaking. Families reveal the pain of losing loved ones; a healthcare system is inundated as those in the industry struggle. In the midst of it all is social media’s influence, with everything from conspiracies to misleading details on display.
The film’s official synopsis:
“In The Same Breath” recounts the experiences of people on the ground in the earliest days of the novel coronavirus and the way two countries dealt with its initial spread, from the first days of the outbreak in Wuhan to its rampage across the United States. Directed with a deeply personal approach by Wang, who was born in China and now lives in the United States, the film explores the early confusion and parallel campaigns by authorities to try to contain the virus as well as shape the public narrative through misinformation, resulting in a devastating impact on citizens of both countries.
A city’s deadly virus is just the beginning. HBO Documentary Films’ “In The Same Breath” premieres on August 18th on HBO and HBOMax. Watch the trailer below.