A Coronavirus Thriller Was Finished Just Before the Shutdown

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — In between the time the coronavirus started to make headlines but before life shut down to restrain the pandemic, an independent filmmaker conceived, shot and finished postproduction on a movie about the contagion.Thanks to the availability of relatively cheap digital equipment, there is rarely much lag time these days between real-life events…

VANCOUVER, B.C. — In between the time the coronavirus started to make headlines but before life shut down to restrain the pandemic, an independent filmmaker conceived, shot and finished postproduction on a movie about the contagion.

Thanks to the availability of relatively cheap digital equipment, there is rarely much lag time these days between real-life events — like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 or the Japanese tsunami in 2011 — and films about them. But this new movie, by Mostafa Keshvari, is unusual in that it was made even as the story is still unfolding.

Keshvari’s 63-minute “Corona” looks at what happens when seven people are trapped in an elevator, and begin to realize that one of them has Covid-19. The movie is about fear and “a study of society, people and moral choices,” Keshvari, 33, said in recent phone and email interviews about the movie. “We are all in this ride together.”

Vancouver, known as “Hollywood North,” is Canada’s gateway to Asia, and also an epicenter in the country’s Covid-19 crisis. As news reached here of a “Wuhan virus,” there were increasing reports of harassment of Chinese-Canadians and others of Asian heritage. Patronage of Chinese-Canadian businesses dropped by up to 70 percent.

The filmmaker was in an elevator reading the headlines when he had the idea.

“There were just so many incidents,” said Keshvari, who also runs BC Minorities in Film & TV Society, a network for budding artists from minority backgrounds. At the time he embarked on his project, “nobody thought a white person could get it. But the virus doesn’t discriminate.”

In real life, “everyone faces discrimination, all different kinds,” he said, so if he could “bring all these people” together in the film and “trap them,” he thought, then their “true colors come out.”

Starting in late January, he spent two weeks writing the script; the set took 10 more days to create. “We rented a space and we built an elevator,” he said. “Ultralow budget.”

Some cast members he already knew; others he found through word of mouth. The director also left room to improvise. “I told them: ‘Imagine that the actual coronavirus is in this elevator.’”

He wanted the action to unfold in real time, he said. “My struggle was to make sure it was all one shot,” Keshvari said.

Over three days in February, it took nearly 70 takes to pull that off. Money was running out. And time. “It helped with the anxiety of the film,” he said.

Outside, the coronavirus moved fast. “We thought it was just going to pass,” Keshvari said. “No one could have imagined.”

He had planned to submit the film, finished before the city declared a state of emergency, to festivals. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore,” he said, as nearly every such event has been canceled for the foreseeable future. Streaming is the most likely option. The movie “belongs to humanity,” he said.

As for Keshvari’s cast and his crew of 25, he said, so far they are well.

  • Updated March 24, 2020

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      Experts are divided on how much protection a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf, can provide for people who aren’t yet sick. The W.H.O. and C.D.C. say that unless you’re already sick, or caring for someone who is, wearing a face mask isn’t necessary. And stockpiling high-grade N95 masks will make it harder for nurses and other workers to access the resources they need. But researchers are also finding that there are more cases of asymptomatic transmission than were known early on in the pandemic. And a few experts say that masks could offer some protection in crowded places where it is not possible to stay 6 feet away from other people. Masks don’t replace hand-washing and social distancing.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


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