Both Netflix and Amazon – alleged by the director (Ai Weiwei) – turned down distributing Coronation (2020) out of fear of upsetting Chinese business. Netflix have denied this, Amazon no comment. In any case it might just be what it is.

Having now watched the documentary myself I think I can understand their point-of-view, if this was the case. The first half takes you right inside the battleground and outskirts as the whole world began to see what was happening (I remember meeting a couple of friends in the pub the night after this broke). You don’t get a ton of clarity about the wider picture, but this would be beside the point of how much you could realistically film in China. Indeed, it’s surprising how much you are shown and told by citizens and workers, given the secretive filming and how you’re even taken inside an ICU at one point. That China’s politics wouldn’t allow much opportunity to make this obvious definitely tells you something.

Then as we get into the second half, we actually see more of the inner Wuhan and less the “isolated” parts, a random assortment of citizens relaying their commentaries. It’s probably here I should note how the Academy simply defines a documentary as meaning “non-fiction”. Furthermore, in Film Studies we were often told how by nature of a camera being present, it’s then impossible for a film to truly capture reality, rather “re-present it” instead. Given the gravity of this filming though and how it was effectively under-the-radar, I was impressed. My only criticism might be it could have been nice to see a little systematic reflection alongside making us feel like we’re there.

That above note seems a little silly to say though given what they did shoot. And Weiwei said they managed to assemble this 2-hour film out of nearly 500 hours of footage. I can only imagine what else there is too.

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