Inside Wuhan: Ai Weiwei’s CoroNation
An important film, showing the tragedy and triumph of the first outbreak of COVID-19
CoroNation is Ai Weiwei’s guerrilla documentary covering the outbreak in Wuhan. It’s an intense film and I will include some graphic images in this review because frankly I think you need to see them. Watching CoroNation is the most I’ve felt the horror, the boredom, the sacrifice and the loss that is COVID-19.
What Weiwei’s film accomplishes is that it feels less like a film than just visiting people in Wuhan. It’s honestly boring sometimes, but that’s life. This is life and death in Wuhan.
Because the filming was essentially illegal and the director in exile, what you get is the result of hundreds of hours of footage edited together. The result is that there is no central narrator or even narrative. You also spend so long with most characters that even their narratives muddle into reality.
CoroNation really feels like being somewhere, which is honestly boring a lot of the time. You look out the window, you stop for gas, you eat, then maybe somebody says something. This is then punctuated by searing images of actual COVID patients, of stunning displays of human organization, of deep scenes of grieving. And then it’s back to cooking noodles or trying to charge a phone. It’s life.
This boredom is reality. I’ve done ‘illegal’ filming and half the time you’re in a bus or in some waiting room and then you get that one shot behind the barbed wire that tells a story. And that’s all you file. So people think tragedy is somehow exciting and not 99% boredom punctuated by horror.
Most documentaries will edit out the boring parts, but Weiwei lets the footage roll. Thus, to me, watching CoroNation felt more like making a documentary than watching one. It was edited in a way that felt unedited. It felt more like visiting Wuhan than being told about it. Hence the boredom, I think, is vital. It’s real.