It has been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it forever. In the new HBO documentary “Covid Diaries NYC” a few teenagers film themselves experiencing life in New York City during the worst pandemic in a century.
The first story told is from Marcial Pilatazi, a young man who helps his grandmother take out the garbage for wealthy individuals in Manhattan. What makes Pilatazi’s story interesting is how he wants to move out of Manhattan and explore the world while also looking after his grandmother. At one point during his segment, Pilatazi goes out with his friends maskless and is later berated by a man for not considering others. The guilt that later follows Pilatazi demonstrates the need to sacrifice youth in order to protect those you love.
Next is a short film by Aracelie Colon, a teenage woman who suffers from multiple mental health issues as she tries to navigate life at home during the pandemic. Colon’s perspective shines a light on a forgotten side effect of the pandemic, which is the toll it has placed on the collective psyche. When Colon stated in the movie that she has no support systems because school is shut down, it reminded me of how fragile and unprepared society is when it comes to helping those in need, especially during a crisis like a pandemic.
Camille Diannd’s story is the most interesting of the shorts . Her father is an MTA worker who contracted COVID-19 while on the job and, at one point, was having a horrible fever. Showing this side of the pandemic exposes the reality that essential employees like Diannd’s father face. Nobody is safe from the virus, and while Dinnad’s dad was able to fully recover from COVID-19, one of his co-workers unfortunately died from the virus.
Following Dinnad’s film, there is Shane Fleming, a 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker who lives with his parents who are struggling with employment. Fleming does a fantastic job of showcasing the struggles his parents faced. His dad, a restaurant worker, was unemployed since his restaurant was temporarily closed, and his mom had to use Zoom to teach her preschool class — which leads her to breaking down and crying later in the film. Similar to Diannd’s story, the film is not about Fleming or his experiences; instead, it touches on the lives of the people around him and how COVID-19 is destroying their lives.
The final short was made by Arlet Guallpa and it features her visiting her parent’s places of work during the pandemic. Her mother is a nurse and during a shift, it is revealed that despite working at a client’s house for 24 hours, she was only paid for half the amount of time. The reasoning behind the shortened pay was not explained, but it does highlight the struggle to make ends meet, especially amidst a pandemic. Guallpa’s father, on the other hand, is a bus driver who has to deal with some riders who don’t wear a mask despite signage saying otherwise. The saddest part about Guallpa’s film is the revelation that her parents both contracted COVID-19 at one point while working. Even though they have both recovered, work is still stressful for both of them.
Each story highlights varying experiences of the pandemic. The mixture of styles and perspectives gave “Covid Diaries NYC” a unique edge in the documentary landscape. The film was also under an hour, which is unusual given how most documentaries are typically 90 minutes.
Despite the short runtime, this is a must-watch documentary and it will have you rethinking everything you knew about life in New York City during the pandemic. It is currently streaming on HBO Max.