Analysis Saturday Matinees Preview

Saturday Matinees Preview: Survival – Living Through Covid (2022)

Director: Afzal Khan

Writer: Afzal Khan

Cast: Jenifer Chhetri, Prajita Shrestha, Ravi Pun, Sanjiv Balami, Terresa Chhetri

Running time: 4mins

Most film festivals depend on submission fees to sustain their operations. That makes granting fee waivers difficult. In turn, though, this means that already marginalised voices can struggle to be heard at the only outlets their stories may have.

Films from artists with low-income backgrounds, from opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations hit by international sanctions still need a platform, though. That’s why Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees series is back for a second season.

The latest six-part series of Saturday Matinees has already shown work from South Africa and Iran. This week, our free-to-view short comes from Afzal Khan, a filmmaker based in Kathmandu. Like many of the world’s smallest economies, Nepal has struggled to vaccinate its population – due to the yawning gap between the health infrastructure of richer and poorer nations.

Even though the Himalayan country finally obtained a steady supply of vaccines in late 2021, putting them to use in time proved just as big a problem – with the Xinhua news agency quoting officials who suggested the country lacked adequate storage capacity and necessary human resources. Despite that, over the course of 2022, the country still managed – according to the latest reports – to surpass the vaccination rates of the world’s supposed ‘leaders’ on healthcare. An 80.5% majority of the population are fully vaccinated, ahead of the UK’s 76.4%, despite the UK having had earlier access to jabs, and better storage facilities.

As such, you might forgive the unwavering optimism writer-director Khan exhibits throughout his film. It is impressive that Nepal is punching above its weight, to make life safer for its citizens, and tackle a virus that the Western world has seemingly waved a white flag to. The film focuses on a growing number of performers, who are going about their daily lives while wearing makeup on their faces and hands. The white patch on each face takes the shape of a mask, while the vibrant blue paint on their hands represents rubber gloves.

Both of which were the world’s earliest and most effective method of preventing transmission before a vaccine, so the visuals signify that that same level of protection is now offered by vaccination. As a visual metaphor, it’s well accomplished and smartly designed – while its accompaniment with positive statistics charting Nepal’s rapid uptake of the vaccine gives it a feel-good quality. It is rough around the edges in more than a few areas, though.

It might seem petty, but the biggest technical issue it suffers from is its timing. The film’s ‘running time’ is four minutes – but the first 30 seconds consists of four consecutive sheets of festival wreaths. If they really need to be included at the start of a film – and I would really argue that they do not – this needs to be a single sheet, and run for a fraction of the time. As it is, along with the opening and closing titles, and a long list of disclaimers, more than a quarter of the film is a black screen with static text and logos. The shorter the film is, the more infuriating that becomes to the average audience.

At the same time, the film lacks anything but surface-level characterisation of the people on camera. Having lived through a mass trauma such as the pandemic, there might be more here both to help audiences relate to the characters and to allow us some catharsis by helping to confront the horrors of the last three years.

Finally, the broader implications of the film are just a little jarring, at least from where I am sitting. The suggestion seems to be that with the vaccine, everything can go back to ‘normal’. Taking Nepal as a lone example, that might be true for a short time – but with the wider world shifting between complacency and denial about needing to vaccinate at all, we’re seeing new, vaccine-resistant strains of Covid-19 evolve constantly. Everything is not going to work itself out here, and things may well deteriorate again in the not-so-distant future.

All that means that Survival might be more of a public information film – aimed at energising a very particular audience, and calling them to a very specific action – than a conventional short narrative which can communicate beyond the context it was created in. If it even partially helps build the success of Nepal’s vaccine campaign, though, it is at least successful within that context.

The film will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 18th of February, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2324 to access the film.

Stay tuned for another film next week!

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