Kevin Macdonald on Tackling the Covid Experience in 2020: The Story of Us
By Kristin Brzoznowski
An Oscar-winning director, Kevin Macdonald has a body of work that spans the feature films The Mauritanian and The Last King of Scotland to the docs Touching the Void and Life in a Day. With 2020: The Story of Us, he addresses the coronavirus in Britain, using testimonies from hospital staff and showing the experiences of ordinary people facing extraordinary situations amid the pandemic.
The ITV-commissioned doc came about in a “coincidental way,” Macdonald tells TV Real Weekly. “Producer Lawrence Elman and executive producer Nick Fraser are old friends of mine. They had been working on getting access to ICU units to make a documentary series—and this was before Covid-19 began. They already had contact with the characters who are in the film. Then Covid struck, and they already had the access; they didn’t have a commission to do the series but wanted to use the opportunity to make a film.”
This is when they got in touch with Macdonald, who says he was immediately struck by the idea. “We decided to try to do this collage kind of film where we see different characters in different parts of the United Kingdom going through sometimes very emotional experiences dealing with Covid. At the beginning, there was an excitement about the challenge ahead, and then you see them become worn down, often depressed, and in the case of Professor Hugh Montgomery, you see the tragedy of him losing his child indirectly because of Covid. It’s a microcosm of the experience that medical professionals around the world had over those initial six to eight months.” Filming started in March 2020 and went through to October, with cameras capturing what was essentially the first wave.
Macdonald and the team had exclusive access to intensive care units across the U.K., with footage captured by NHS staff themselves. “In large part, the techniques used were forced upon us by the rules and regulations around filming in hospitals during that period,” Macdonald says. “The only way to film in an actual ICU at that time in the U.K. was for the doctors and nurses to film themselves. It was really only the doctors who could do that because they had the standing in the hospitals to be able to say they wanted to shoot something and nobody was going to stop them, whereas with the nurses sometimes it was more bureaucratic. A lot of the best material is self-shot using iPhones to record their days and using it as a diary.”
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