J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, December 02, 2016

ADIFF ’16: 93 Days

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria is now Ebola-free, but don’t take their word for it. A Nollywood crew filmed the story of the 2014 outbreak on location in the very same hospital and isolation wards involved—and lived to tell the tale on the festival circuit. The ripped-from-the-headlines story of the dedicated medical team that contained the Ebola threat is dramatized in Steve Gukas’s English language 93 Days (trailer here), which screens as part of the Spotlight on Nigeria at the 2016 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

In August of 2014, Nigeria was still untouched by Ebola, but the virus was very definitely present in West Africa—particularly Liberia, where an estimated fifty (five-zero) doctors cared for a population of over four million. That is where grumpy business traveler Patrick Sawyer flew in from. He looked a bit peaked on the flight and practically imploded once he reached the hospital, but he refused to cooperate with efforts to diagnose his malady. Recognizing the tell-tale signs, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh imposes quarantine protocols, at least as best she can in the woefully under-prepared First Consultants. Honestly, the up-scale hospital would be a perfectly fine place to get treatment for a broken leg, but they just didn’t have the infectious disease facilities.

Of course, the tests eventually confirm the Ebola diagnosis, but by that time, several doctors and RNs are already symptomatic. They will be whisked away to a makeshift isolation ward in Yaba, where they will be treated by Dr. David Brett-Major, an American WHO specialist. Eventually, Dr. Adadevoh will also check herself into Yaba, after a short period of denial.

Unlike most outbreak thrillers, 93 Days is more about responsibility than panic and terror. Essentially, it portrays a group of doctors who get a dose of their own medicine and in some cases, heal themselves. However, it is a bit controversial in Liberia, with most of the criticism focused on the casting of a Nigerian actor as the Liberian Sawyer, but one cannot help suspecting the film stirs deeper national resentments.

The portrayal of the doctors’ professionalism and heroism is refreshing, but Gukas and editor Antonio Rui Ribeiro could have easily pruned some of the talky slack. Still, the polish of Gukas’s production stands head-and-shoulders above what many viewers might expect from Nollywood. This looks like a real movie with a respectable budget. It even features two legit Hollywood actors.

Tim Reid essentially phones in his brief appearance as a DC health official, who duly explains why a raging outbreak in Lagos would be less than optimal. On the other hand, Danny Glover is in it for the long haul as the sage-like hospital director, Dr. Benjamin Ohiaeri. There are probably more Evangelical Christian prayers in 93 Days than all of Glover’s previous films combined, but he still does his thing, radiating grizzled greybeard dignity.

Somkele Idhalama is also quite forceful as Dr. Ada Igonoh, the sequestered infected staffer who would probably be voted most likely to survive. Yet, probably the biggest surprise is the charismatic and humane performance of British Alastair Mackenzie as the American Dr. Brett-Major.

In a way, 93 Days represents the sort of earnest but unsensationalized medical drama we could have seen back in the days of Playhouse 90. It is the sort of film that honors sacrifice and suggests prayer has value during a time of crisis, even if it never directly changes anything. It really could find an audience in Red State markets if marketed correctly. Recommended for fans of Nollywood and fact-based docu-dramas, 93 Days screens tomorrow (12/3), Sunday (12/4), and Wednesday (12/7), during this year’s ADIFF.

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