HBO Documentary Films: COVID DIARIES NYC – Review


Overview: COVID DIARIES NYC, chronicles the lives of five young filmmakers, ranging in age from 17 to 21, who turn their cameras on themselves to tell the stories of their families during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. The deeply personal film illuminates the plight of essential workers and their families during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis as they navigate the deadly virus and a country riven by social upheaval. Debut Date: March 09, 2021 

Expectations: Every important historical event throughout our lives needs to be chronicled in some way. Think of the documentaries we’ve seen post 9/11 for example. The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly such an event. The raw footage these budding filmmakers offer will surely illustrate ways it has touched us, but does it need to do so? I mean, looking on a past event with some perspective is a good thing, but we are all dealing with the dangers and issues of the pandemic, do we need reminded so soon of what we are all experiencing? A minor grumble, I know, but we are all sharing in the same stresses these short films express.  

I do want to point out, before viewing, that I am not out to judge these youngsters for their film making skills. I am merely out to visit their space and identify with their feelings in stressful moments. These films were shot in the early stages of the pandemic when large uncertainty about what we were facing were adding to their stresses. Let’s see how it impacted their lives.   

Gut Reaction: First is “The Only Way to Live in Manhattan” by Marcial Pilataxi. This lad lives and works with his elderly grandmother. She is a superintendent for an apartment building. It is a stressful burden to handle the place when all the tenants are in lockdown. Along with the building stresses is the building garbage they deal with. There is also a concern for Marcial to keep his grandmother healthy through it all.  

Docs_COVIDDiariesNYC-Pic1He hates the burden it places on him and her. He hates being confined to the building as if his life is solely confined within it. He does, against his grandmother’s wishes, slip out to carouse late at night, to get out and live & breathe, only to return feeling guilty that he has done so and increasing his risk of bringing contagion to his loved one. The piece does contain truths about the dangers of, at that time, the unknown viral agent but, I felt this young man was going to feel claustrophobic in that building regardless of the pandemic; he was ready to get out and explore his life. Tough it out and I hope you get to do so. 

Next is “My COVID Breakdown” by Aracelie Colón. The stress of the pandemic is one thing but to have them compounded by mental issues really must kick it up a notch. Aracelie spends a lot of time in her head connected to her thoughts & feelings and, at one point, records her having a breakdown. We don’t know if she films the whole experience for us and I don’t want to minimalize it, but what she shows us is brief, but if these meltdowns happen frequently enough it can really leave her spent.  Docs_COVIDDiariesNYC-Pic2

The one we witness is certainly brought on by her worry for her father who is an essential worker. He and his wife keep a good handle on the situation and their daughter’s health as they try their best to move forward. One step at a time, we must all do it one step at a time.  

The best story for me, the one that really narrowed in on the dangers of COVID was “When My Dad Got COVID” by Camille Dianand. She is concerned about her father, a subway mechanic for the MTA. After a coworker dies from the virus, her father contracts COVID-19 and the family faces life and death terror. 

You see and feel the fear here as they wonder just how to help the man of the house as you hear him gagging and coughing 24/7 in a darkened secluded room of the apartment. We all know someone who has contracted the virus. Perhaps it is not, however, someone in your immediate household and this short film locks Docs_COVIDDiariesNYC-Pic3in quickly on the fear and stress of that scenario. Good luck!  

“No Escape From New York” by Shane Fleming follows. Illustrated here is a point you don’t quickly associate with the pandemic. I mean, a number of us, like myself, are in essential jobs that are short-staffed with plenty of work in front of us but Shane’s parents represent those who have lost their jobs because the business has folded up during lockdown. This forces the Fleming’s to take drastic measures. Leaving the family worrying about mounting bills, growing debt they flee. They decide to go on a road trip toDocs_COVIDDiariesNYC-Pic4 escape their problems, but the issues his mother and father face follow them wherever they go. 

It never dawned on me that fleeing was an option. It was for the Flemings and we see them on the road. But we also see Mrs. F., with perhaps mental issues of her own not mentioned, become quite depressive and overwhelmed by the pandemic and where it has placed them. It is shocking and you wonder how it resolves for them.  

“Frontline Family” by Ariet Guallpa is the concluding piece. Ariet watches with her family as ambulance after ambulance arrives at their apartment building in Washington Heights to take away residents who die from the virus. Despite their fears, her parents, a bus driver and home care attendant, carry on with work and try to overcome their anxieties about their family’s exposure. Man, even on a good day, this reaffirms my appreciation for not living in or anywhere near NYC.  

Docs_COVIDDiariesNYC-Pic5Ariet bravely, with camera in hand, follows her parents as they head to work, slog through work and collapse after work day in and day out all while under the pressure of staying safe and healthy. This is a relatable story for us who had kept working through the lockdown of 2020. The constant masking up, the constant sanitizing, the constant scrubbing up and being mindful of distance when you can. There was no letup for the hardworking Guallpa family, keeping diligent under the circumstances.              

Conclusion: In the end, each piece did its job of chronicling the dilemmas we all faced in 2020. A surprise extra clip shows us that all the families seen here fared better in 2021.  

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