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COVID-19 Chronicle: a film collaboration by students at Columbia Journalism School

With topics ranging from athletes with disabilities to trans people encountering harassment in homeless shelters, these students had ambitious projects that would require deep reporting, technical knowledge of camerawork, and a sense of aesthetic filmmaking.

COVID-19 Chronicle: a film collaboration by students at Columbia Journalism School

Photo credit: Unsplash: Jeremy Yapp

Students enrolled in a multimedia storytelling class at Columbia Journalism School had nearly five months to create their own documentary films on any subject of their choosing. With topics ranging from athletes with disabilities to trans people encountering harassment in homeless shelters, these students had ambitious projects that would require deep reporting, technical knowledge of camerawork, and a sense of aesthetic filmmaking.

All that came to a close on March 18th, when the school received notice that due to concerns about the coronavirus, all in-person reporting (including filming) was prohibited for the next six to eight weeks, at least.

After a brief period of grief and introspection, our professor Duy Linh Tu, and adjunct professor Julian Lim, proposed a collaborative film project that would document how people around the world are continuing their lives through the pandemic. Using nothing but our cell phones and recorded video calls (and sometimes coordinating with our international sources to film what we direct), these exclusive stories cover regions as far from Columbia University as Kenya, Hungary, and China, and as close as California, New York, and Florida. Due to political ramifications around the world, we’ve had to learn to entertain ourselves at home. These films are bite-size pieces of visual journalism that capture much of the essence of life during the pandemic.

One particular documentary (featured below) captures a Columbia Journalism student’s journey from New York to a 12-day quarantine in a former Soviet city. The documentary features Vusala Alibayli who lives with her husband Elman Fattah. Vusala flew back to Azerbaijan to reunite with her family during quarantine. They were put into quarantine by the government as soon as they landed. They were unable to see their family and were not told when they would be able to leave. At the time of this video, both were locked down in one room with limited information and an uncertain future.

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