88 weeks after the first confirmed Coronavirus case in the United States, seven directors reflect on life during the pandemic for the film anthology “The Year of the Everlasting Storm.” Developed last year under strict safety protocols, the diverse short films range from documentary and fiction to experimental. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panâhi serves as an executive director and contributor whose film “Life” opens the series with a look at living in quarantined Tehran. Chile, China, Thailand, and the US are also represented including a segment by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery (“The Green Knight”) that sends chills as a former pandemic reflects modern times.
Jafar Panâhi is used to being quarantined. It was exactly 10 years ago that he was placed under house arrest by the Iranian government which objected to the content in the internationally acclaimed director’s films — they usually focus on the hardships faced by women, children, and the poor citizens of Iran — and banned him from making films or writing screenplays. Of course, that didn’t stop Panâhi. To this day the filmmaker is not allowed to leave the country.
“Life” documents Panâhi, his wife, and pet iguana Iggy living in their Tehran apartment during the 2020 lockdown. A figure in what appears to be a hazmat suit suddenly appears at their door. Fearing it’s a member of the government doing some sort of quarantine check, the tension is broken by Panâhi’s elderly mother asking to be let inside. Dressed in full PPE gear, the family matriarch couldn’t stand being isolated from her son so she broke confinement for a quick visit. It’s heartwarming, funny, and a great segment to kick off the anthology.
The mood quickly changes as Singapore’s Anthony Chen (“Wet Season”) contributes “The Break Away” a fictional short about a young Chinese couple struggling to stay afloat as the pandemic worsens and businesses start shuttering. The wife works from home as a telemarketer while her husband remains unsure about his job as a car salesman since the dealership has shut down. Tensions remain high with money worries as the couple (Zhou Dongyu, Zhang Yu) copes with raising a young child. The short film echoes the plight faced by many families during COVID.
Dallas filmmaker David Lowery gives us a chilling short aptly titled “Dig Up My Darling” about a woman (Catherine Machovsky) in Texas driving down country roads in search of a corpse, the victim of a past epidemic. Beautifully shot and creepy to boot.
Los Angeles filmmaker Malik Vitthal (“Body Cam”) focuses on a father, Bobby Yay Yay Jones, working to gain custody of his three children after they were removed by social services, split up, and sent to separate foster homes in the documentary-style “Little Measures”.
For the documentary short “Terror Contagion” by Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”), the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker who has focused her career on reporting about the NSA, Edward Snowden, and the US occupation of Iraq, joins forces with the research group Forensic Architecture to uncover the truth about Pegasus spyware developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli cyber arms firm that covertly infiltrates mobile phones. It’s compelling and deserves its own film but here the short feels out of place in the COVID anthology.
From Chile, writer-director Dominga Sotomayor who co-founded CINESTACIóN and CCC, Centro de Cine y Creación, an arthouse cinema and center in Santiago, “Sin Titulo, 2020” is a fictional account of a mother who works as a singer, rearranging her life as COVID protocols force her to use Zoom to collaborate with colleagues (most of us can relate). At the same time, she is dealing with the birth of a grandson while juggling her relationship with two grown daughters.
The final short, “Night Colonies” from Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethaku, is a skin-crawling experimental film void of actors that should be avoided if you have an insect phobia. Creepy crawlers inundate the bed of a former COVID patient underneath the glow of several fluorescent lights.
“The Year of the Everlasting Storm” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It’s the latest film to explore our forever changed world mixing real life with fiction as we all continue to navigate around the pandemic. It can be cathartic at times if not hopeful. But there is comfort in knowing that other people are navigating life around the virus grabbing at any form of normalcy.
Opens Friday, September 10 at the Texas Theater (Dallas)