COVID Diaries NYC
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COVID Diaries NYC
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that COVID Diaries NYC is a short documentary about families living through the coronavirus crisis in Manhattan. Five young filmmakers were chosen to document their lives in 2020, as they dealt with the confusion and displacement of the pandemic. Though the filmmakers are all New Yorkers, their families represent a diverse cross-section of backgrounds and ethnicities. Many of the family members filmed are essential workers, so the filmmakers confront the threat of coronavirus on a daily basis as they watch their family members suffer illness, trauma, and loss. However, COVID Diaries NYC ends up sending mixed messages about precautions taken to prevent the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. And many of the stories end up unresolved. For example, multiple people are shown to be grappling with mental illness without showing any attempts to address or treat it, with the only follow-up being a message from the filmmakers after the credits that says everyone is doing great.
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What's the Story?
COVID DIARIES NYC is a documentary that peeks into the lives of five families during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Five young filmmakers document their lives as their parents and grandparents figure out how to adjust and adapt during the shutdown. Marcial lives in midtown with his grandmother, who is the super for a large building. Camille and her parents worry about how her mental illness diagnoses will affect her in isolation. Aracelle watches her father risk illness every day as he repairs subway cars. Shane's family must move away, as the restaurant his father manages is closed indefinitely. And Arlet interviews the workers who clean her apartment building after someone has died.
Is It Any Good?
The cinema verité style of documentary, which aims for an objective slice of life without artifice, has mostly fallen out of fashion in favor of narrative documentaries featuring talking heads and archival footage. COVID Diaries NYC is a bit of a throwback in that respect, as it values access to the real lives of real families above all else. Watching a diverse group of working-class families cope with the unique problems the pandemic presents could have been powerful, but the amateur filmmaking puts the documentary at a huge disadvantage. Though each segment is less than 10 minutes long, the segments struggle to keep your attention. Nearly everyone is awkward in front of the camera, and they respond by withholding emotion, joking glibly, or trying to manufacture drama. When powerful moments do happen, there's no follow-through to see if the families respond to or recover from them. Worst of all, the filmmakers send mixed messages about preventing the spread of the virus, as they are inconsistent about wearing masks and social distancing. The documentary succeeds in capturing a slice of life, but it's too small a slice, capturing families' struggles but not their resilience.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about COVID-19. How does the experience of the families in COVID Diaries NYC compare to your own experience during the pandemic? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Did you learn anything from the documentary?
What unique problems do the families in the documentary face? How do they approach these problems? In which ways are they successful or unsuccessful?
Why do you think HBO chose New York as the setting for this documentary? How is the city portrayed? Are there unique problems that living in New York presents? What are they? How do they affect the families in the documentary?
- Premiere date: March 9, 2021
- Network: HBO
- Genre: Reality TV
- TV rating: TV-14
- Last updated: March 2, 2022
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