La Jornada – Words on napkins and photos, the best medicine for covid patients and families

After the first quarter of 2020, with a deserted city, an isolated society and a huge number of covid-19 infections, Juan Carlos Rulfo was interested in what was happening at Clinic 27 of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), where “Exchange of letters and video calls between nurses and family members in order to establish a bridge with the hospitalized” allowed him to create an intimate story from the collective.

in the documentary letters at a distance, Rulfo resorted to the help of the medical staff of that hospital, which was completely converted to care for covid-19 cases. The second part of the film material was given to the families in cell phone formats; In addition, the production documented the stories of patients from their designated areas. “This film tells the story of what happens in a week in a hospital,” says the beginning of the tape.

About the touching story that is shown in cinemas and reflects the communication that took place during the height of the pandemic, the director is for Conference: “In the clinic, which is located in Tlatelolco, there was this kind of exchange of messages between nurses and relatives. Jorge Gomez Skull and other people from the health sector built this bridge of written messages, as a dedication to the most basic communication; that is, words written on a napkin, on pieces of paper, on photographs, water bottles, on anything, which were addressed to hospitalized persons”.

This is “a documented communication exercise designed by healthcare staff in a public hospital to reduce the distance between patients with COVID-19 and their families.”

“The little things are the biggest”

This film, Rulfo pointed out, “is proof that small things will always be the biggest; I think that we have never, like now, witnessed the regenerative power of image and sound between patients infected with covid-19 and their loved ones who have to be forcibly separated. Then the video or audio fragment, accompanied by the voice of the son or the wife, has the ability to save lives”.

In addition, the director pointed out, “the nurses, in addition to other aggressions, suffered chlorine attacks and were very scared; then we contact Skull and we made a WhatsApp group where they told us with audio notes how they felt and how they coped with it all. Listening to them in their pain, fatigue and discomfort, but wanting to help, we try to complete this matter, but with video messages that also reached the sick. We have created a kind of social network.”

The most beautiful thing, he shared, “is that people opened their hearts and expressed their feelings from the depths; In fact, intimacy with people was open to us from the beginning; they wanted to get closer to their patients in the best way, and that’s how an audiovisual story began to take shape that had to do with that series of emotions that provided security and reduced misinformation.”

Finally, “the film was made by them, with video messages and cameras used by the nurses to record inside; then we had permission from the clinic to take photos and we filmed in the homes of 10 families who had different fortunes from May to September: some were happy that their family member was alive, others were not, and others were waiting until they were out.”

A world crisis that no one knew the way to

Letters from afar, the director explained, “is about a communication crisis, because the media didn’t know what to do; their information was just statistics, but they didn’t talk about people. The truth is that in this global crisis, no one knew the way. However, civil society once again managed to find a channel to communicate with its patients. It was the best medicine.”

Rulfo claimed that emotions multiplied outside the clinic, because “there was a great tradition; for example, Mother’s Day was a party and there were times when they had mariachi. What was happening around was the whole story: the lady who sold the masks, the franelleros and the cleaners, all these invisible people were the chroniclers of the city.

In the documentary, “besides the grief of losing a loved one or the anguish experienced, it is confirmed that the solutions that civil society can come up with are fantastic; we must make an altar or pay homage to these wills that find solutions to solve their shortcomings”.

Another aspect that Rulfo took care of in the film was that “it wasn’t tabloid, scandalous or tormenting people, but we could feel part of it, because it could happen to all of us or it happened to many of us to lose someone or get infected.”

The documentary is also “a journey through the lives of Mexican families who faced the most painful pandemic to date, in adverse social, economic and political contexts, fueled by hope and love.”

The work was set to music by Philip Glass and Leonardo Heiblum, who joined the project considering the characteristics and power of the stories. Both used ambient sounds from the hospital, the silence of the streets and the suspense that was happening outside the clinic. The sound design was made by Martín Hernández, who narrated the families and voices of those participating in the documentary.

Letters from afar, which was presented at the Morelia International Film Festival a year ago, is touring the Cineteca Nacional and Cine Tonalá, along with Cinemex. It will also be shown in other entities in the country.

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