What will be the first COVID-19 movie? A hyperbolic Oliver Stone docudrama on the White House’s response? A big-budget blockbuster starring Dwayne Johnson as the buff scientist who developed the first vaccine, presumably all while battling terrorists? A Seth Rogen comedy in which a ne’er-do-well stoner makes a killing stockpiling toilet paper? Who’s to say. But right now, in the thick of the pandemic, there is already a quasi-COVID genre emerging: self-isolation cinema.
Last month, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov announced that he was producing Tales from the Quarantine, an anthology film in which filmmakers and the public were invited to participate. And this week, Canadian film industry veteran Stacey Donen launched Greetings from Isolation, a website collecting dozens of short films tackling the current crisis.
The project – part cinematic experiment, part art-therapy for filmmakers trapped at home – includes new works from such acclaimed homegrown filmmakers as Anita Doron (The Breadwinner), Igor Drljaca (The Waiting Room), Sadaf Faroughi (Ava), Ann Marie Fleming (Window Horses) and Larry Kent (Bitter Ash).
“Some filmmakers are doing completely different work than expected, and some are doing really surprising things. It’s all based on the idea of us being separated and trying to connect to find inspiration,” says Donen, a Toronto-based film programmer who has worked for the Toronto International Film Festival, the Whistler Film Festival and the Royal Theatre, among other organizations. “This is something obviously everyone is going through right now, and it’s happening at the same time, in the same way, all around the world. So let’s tell our stories to try to find meaning together.”
The idea for the project, which counts 45 Canadian filmmakers and rising, began soon after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
“That first week of being at home, I got to talking with my friend [director] Denis Côté, and that’s how the idea started,” Donen says, noting that the French filmmaker had to since move onto other projects. “At first, I thought it could be an omnibus project that would connect 10 or 15 short films, and we’d put it out there for the fall festival season. But it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t going to be a traditional festival season.”
Instead, the shorts can be found, for free, at GreetingsFromIsolation.com, most running two to five minutes in length and ranging in genre from documentary to visual essay to fiction. All the filmmakers, and Donen, worked for free. Although there is no revenue model yet attached to the project, should any funds be generated going forward, the proceeds will be donated to Food Banks Canada.
“It’s a purely do-it-yourself endeavour. Maybe at some point I’d hope to talk to broadcasters, and we could stitch them together, or maybe group them into Toronto films or the Vancouver films. There is enthusiasm for the project from people I’ve reached out to, which is heartening,” says Donen, adding the projects films range in setting, from Canada to France to Morocco to Pakistan.
“These are such early days. But it’s allowed me to connect with people. It’s not just about making the movies, but to be there and talk with people. It’s nice to think not about whatever the future might be, but about right now.”
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