Meet the Vancouver filmmaker behind the world's first COVID-19 feature film
Mostafa Keshvari got the idea for Corona before billions around the world went into lockdown
They say that timing is everything — but that couldn't be truer for Vancouver filmmaker Mostafa Keshvari
As he watched events unfolding in China in January, and the waves of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia that were rippling around the world, the Persian-Canadian creator had an idea: to make a film about COVID-19.
At the time, people across North America were still leading normal lives — going to work, going to school, taking in live shows and sporting events, traveling to faraway places — oblivious to the fact that, within weeks, people would be emptying grocery stores, hoarding toilet paper, staying two metres away from everyone else, and locking themselves in their homes as hospitalizations and death rates soared.
"I came up with the idea in mid-January, at the very earliest stage when it was just known as the Wuhan virus or Chinese virus. We finished the film in mid-February, long before all the restrictions came and before the pandemic," says Keshvari in an interview with q host Tom Power.
But Keshvari didn't intend the film to be about the spread of the virus; rather, he wanted it to be about the concomitant spread of hate and discrimination.
"We wanted to make something about xenophobia and use the virus as a metaphor for the fear of each other."
'People's true colours come out'
Corona is set inside an elevator, which Keshvari says represents society, and the different floors represent different stratas of that society.
Soon, rumours that someone in the building has coronavirus begin to circulate, and when an Asian woman goes to step on the elevator, people try to keep her out — but she gets in and the elevator ends up getting stuck.
"From there, the fear starts, and it's spreading faster than the virus. We don't know if she has the virus or not, but people assume she does based on what they see," explains Keshvari.
Among the people on the elevator are a pregnant woman who is about to go into labour, a CEO who owns the building, a low-income tenant who can't pay rent, a person in a wheelchair, a white supremacist and a millennial who is spreading rumours.
"It gets really interesting and people's true colours come out. The film is more of a social study on how we behave under very difficult circumstances."
'Our battle with racism will continue'
Corona is Keshvari's second full-length feature; his earlier films have tackled other topical issues such as child marriage, U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, and the experience of Muslims during the travel ban.
At the time he made the film, he expected the virus would be contained to China, and never imagined that within a matter of weeks, literally billions of people around the world would be under lockdown.
Still, Corona is surprisingly prescient — and Keshvari says if he had the chance to do it again knowing what he knows now, there's not much he would change.
"I would still make it about xenophobia because I think long after our battle with this virus is over and long after coronavirus is old news, our battle with racism will continue," says Keshvari, who is currently fielding offers from distributors.
"Hopefully we can come together stronger as the human race, because the virus doesn't belong to a certain race; it belongs to the whole human race — and we can all fight it together."