I Am Not A Hero is essential viewing for audiences to fully grasp the events of what happened during the first wave of COVID-19 inside our hospitals. Focusing on the Belgian Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, three filmmakers stayed from the early beginnings of the pandemic until the last day the unit was open. We witness the struggles of patients and healthcare workers as they battle exhaustion and overwhelming numbers of patients.
When we speak with Fabio he begins to describe the sheer confusion of how to treat the patients and the obvious frustrations at not knowing how to treat people who needed them. Frustration of the situation causes one nurse to erupt with anger as she shouts pointedly at the camera to the Belgian PM and asks where is the money needed to support the staff at this time.
A sombre moment is when a nurse video calls a family of a patient to show them their family member. She has to remain calm and dispel any alarm at how the patient looks to the family. Informing them of why she looks the way she does. You hear the sadness in everyone’s voices, the hopelessness of the family who cannot be there for them. This is compounded later on with a patient who is weak but strong enough for a video call. Our consultant informs us of the difficulties for patients when they cannot see their family. Their will and mental strength is damaged and maybe they do not fight enough. It is another powerful statement. Humans cannot go through such events alone. Love and support is needed and when the only support you have is dressed as said by staff ‘in a spacesuit’.
What strikes most is the connection between the staff, all from different backgrounds and nations joined together in the Erasmus Hospital to help thousands of patients. These people are a family. From all corners of the planet, they are here now to help those who come through the doors. It is beautiful.
I am Not a Hero runs at a packed 73 minutes filling the audience into so much about the day to day life of staff and patients. We see the frustrations of not enough equipment or not having it because of budgets. We see the frustrations and then understanding of staff who complain about people mingling in a park two weeks prior upon their return to a building complex.
Our filmmakers in I Am Not A Hero have been able to not only show the story of working in the hospital but also the socioeconomic difficulties for those who live in small apartments in buildings with children. They need an escape, if even only for a few moments. How can they do this safely, they and the medical services are in a no-win situation.
As mentioned, I am Not A Hero also talks about the loneliness of the situation. We watch nurses have to deliver news to their patients that family members die. They are the ones who have to comfort, now that the family cannot visit. In a telling moment, Fabio brings the family of a patient to the hospital who in his last hours to say goodbye. He informs us that the hospital was allowing patients who were close to death to have a moment with their family. Otherwise, it would be inhumane for them to die alone. It is a tender moment, with the decision from the Erasmus hospital one that should be commended.
Filmmakers Pablo Diaz Crutzen, Stijn Deconinck and Robin Smit they have excellently woven the documentary, between interviews and actual footage. We see the worst of the pandemic in the hospital. Additionally, we witness small things that build-up. Such as we see Meryem who has to reheat her dinner multiple times as they try and help patients. Only to find that everyone has left to go back to work, so she eats alone. These small moments paint an intriguing and thoughtful canvas. Interspersing littler moments throughout is also an effective touch. These are humans too and we cannot work them like robots and expect them not to break. The lightness in some of their interactions show more compassion for each other than you would expect. They are all Bitata hulwa’s.
Our filmmakers are also very tasteful when filming patients at their most vulnerable. We see a hand that needs to be squeezed, and the camera focuses on that instead of pulling out and showing us the man in his bed. The feet of a man being told terrible news and heartbreakingly we watch the last rites given via security camera. The three are sensitive to their subjects and it is reassuring to see such tenderness in this situation. Frustratingly for I Am Not A Hero, we are watching the efforts everyone in this hospital puts in to save lives.
Numbers of inpatients go down during the film and as the unit closes, we know it won’t be long before it opens again for the second wave. Their challenge is far from over, yet there is hope and that is important during this time. Hope that we can, together with get through this disease and see the otherwise. We are not out of the woods yet, but in time we will be. Several thought provoking moments captured in I Am Not A Hero should never be forgotten. When this pandemic comes back in its future cycles as it inevitably will do. We should remember the people working daily to the point of exhaustion, doing their job to save potential family and friends daily.
If there is a documentary to watch about COVID-19 make sure it is I Am Not A Hero. This humanist documentary is vital viewing, as the story here is going to be the same around the world’s hospitals. The healthcare workers may think they are only doing their job, but they are heroes and their efforts during this time need to be documented.
We sometimes focus on the political nature and effects of COVID-19, with lockdowns and restrictions. It can be forgotten who is handling this pandemic and with those infected. Filmmakers Crutzen, Deconinck and Smit have shown us their lives, struggles and world beautifully.
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