The Storyhunter Freelance Community Just Produced The Most Global Film About The Coronavirus…
The Storyhunter Freelance Community Just Produced The Most Global Film About The Coronavirus Pandemic
In the spring of 2020, dozens of Storyhunter filmmakers began conducting interviews with people in 66 countries to see how the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting communities around the globe. This is the resulting film.
We sat down with director and Storyhunter CEO, Jaron Gilinsky, to talk about the process of making it.
What was your inspiration for producing this film?
Never before in my lifetime have I witnessed a public health event that affected every single individual all over the world. Literally every human being alive, suddenly had to deal with the reality of COVID-19 — and presumably changed their life as a result of either the disease itself, or the ensuing lockdowns. So on the one hand, I was fascinated by this pandemic for its sheer scale. On the other hand, I was curious about how people from different walks of life were handling it.
Since there are 7 billion people processing this disease, and reacting to it differently, I wanted to see a more diverse set of perspectives than were coming out in the mainstream media in the U.S. I was curious about how people of different ages, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, genders, income levels, and educational backgrounds were handling this crisis. I guess I became fascinated by the question: What is this pandemic doing to us as species on a psychological, emotional level? We know that people are scared, anxious, and of course, tragically, dying. We explore those themes in the film. But I also wondered, is there anything positive happening as a result of this collective, real time, global trauma? This film is a tool to try and find answers to those two, aforementioned questions.
For a film that’s covering such a devastating topic, it was pretty uplifting. What do you hope people come away with after watching this?
We don’t have any real agenda here. We want everyone to take what they wish from it. What surprised me most in the editing process was how many positive takeaways people had from this experience — and how hopeful most of us are. I think it speaks to the resilience of humanity — — and the paradox of simultaneously needing to distance from each other for our physical health, only to realize we need to be with each other physically for our emotional health. Despite what we see on the news every day, at least on community level — humans really love each other and do physically need each other for our emotional wellbeing.
How much total footage was gathered?
Knowing the scale of our global filmmaker network at Storyhunter, and how passionate our community is about films that seek to explore the human condition, I knew we would get an incredible response to our posting looking for filmmakers to participate. I never imagined we would get more than 130 interviews from 75 different countries. In a span of about two weeks, we got back about 21 hours of interview footage. It was an amazing, rapid response from our network.
How did you manage to record all these interviews and find all these unique subjects?
Through the Storyhunter platform, we built a team of about 50 filmmakers who all had the freedom to find very interesting subjects on their own from their own community, or any community they wanted to explore.
We used Zoom and Google Hangouts for the interviews, and computer or iphone footage for the broll. For consistency, we had everyone ask the same 2 questions. Beyond that, we gave the filmmakers the freedom to continue the interview and explore anything they felt was interesting about the subject.
What challenges come with interviewing people over zoom, as opposed to in person? How can these challenges be overcome?
No matter how good your wifi, it’s always weird talking to people on video chats. There’s a bit of a lag that makes it more important to give people the time to fully finish their sentences — before interjecting with a follow up question. That’s kind of the only real challenge we faced. Otherwise, Zoom was an amazing tool to get into people’s homes safely, instantly, around the world.
Of all the people that were interviewed, do any stick out to you as particularly memorable?
Certainly the most memorable ones were the hardest ones. We chatted with many people who lost loved ones to COVID-19. I did a couple of these myself and they were very difficult emotionally.
I think that the ones involving medical professionals stood out for me as well. I still get gooseflesh every time I hear the nurse saying “This pandemic is really scary.” and you hear a quiver in her voice. You don’t often hear nurses use the word “scary” in this way. It was also surreal to interview my brother, a doctor who was focused entirely on treating Covid-19 patients at this hospital.
Some of the simplest bytes stick out to me as themes that I think need to be thought about and discussed more: There’s an African man who says, “During this holy month of Ramadan, the biggest challenge I have is food.” I think that many Americans don’t realize the indirect consequences of Covid-19, particularly on the economies of the Global South. Entire economies and supply chains have been threatened in the world’s poorest countries, and real people are affected.
I think the loneliness issue is also one that doesn’t get explored enough. One of my most memorable quotes came from an elderly white man who said, “Zoom is okay… but it’s much nicer to be face to face.” I think that many people in the West are suffering more from loneliness and technology fatigue due to the lockdowns.
And finally there’s the woman who says: “This year we will have a story to tell our kids.” I think this kind of sums up the power of this moment. We are living through a truly unprecedented moment in time.
What do you think this film says about the power of working with freelance storytellers?
We obviously couldn’t have done this without the Storyhunter platform and the amazing global community of filmmakers who participated. It is indeed quite wonderful to see people coming together from all over the world to make a movie together. I love these collaborative filmmaking projects and hope to do many more.
How did you stay organized while working with all of these freelancers? What was the process of selecting/hiring and briefing them like?
We had a great team of internal producers who helped curate the submissions, Gabriella Kay, Laura Ling, Mike Musikanto and others really helped us get through the large amount of footage and themes to distill the final film you see here.
This is by no means a film with a linear plot, but the way it’s organized made it seem like that. How did you decide to organize the film this way?
This was in many ways a film experiment. We didn’t want this to be a character driven story which would have definitely been a simpler, perhaps more gripping, but also more biased approach. To answer the questions we wanted to answer, we needed to take a holistic, horizontal approach to really get a more diverse look at our subjects. So the plot ends up following a more cyclical emotional pattern that matches up to what so many of us are going through right now.
You call the film an experiment. If that’s the case, what did you discover? Was the experiment a success?
I think we answered some of the questions we wondered about. We uncovered common learnings, fears and hope as a result of this pandemic. What emerged from the editing process is an ode to humanity, to a shared sense of tragedy and hope for a better future. What surprises people we’ve shown it to was not really anything on an intellectual level — but on an emotional level. Everyone knows the pandemic is global — — but the feeling of global connectedness has been lost as people became more parochial — focusing on their city, town, or immediate family rather than the global community. Our idea was to simply take viewers from their narrow focus to hopefully gain a wider view to see this pandemic at scale. The approach to string one narrative through scores of personal narratives from all over the earth was definitely a crazy idea that may have just worked. We also wanted a time capsule piece from this extraordinary moment in human history. I do think we succeeded in that regard.
What role did the score play in this film?
Music definitely brings the piece together. We tried not to manipulate the footage by using an emotionally leading piece, but wanted more neutral pieces to keep the tempo of the film high. For the very emotional interviews, we decided not to use music at all. We used more rhythmic tunes that could carry us through the film and guide the thematic transitions. We are grateful Michael Marantz let us use his archive for the film.
As a journalist, covering emotional topics like this can be difficult. Do you have any advice for the storytellers whose work may be taking an emotional toll on them?
I think journalists covering the heavy subjects of today’s world probably need to find hobbies to distract them from their work every once in a while. Or do some stories on lighter, more humorous topics to balance out the more grim stuff. Mental health is definitely a subject not discussed enough in our profession — and I believe it is critical for people who are witnessing some of these difficult moments in history. We need our journalists in this for the long haul!
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