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Review: ALONE/TOGETHER - A Film on Life in the Time of COVID

ALONE/TOGETHER will be available to stream from December 8th at 10:00 p.m. MST through December 14th MST. Link to

Review: ALONE/TOGETHER - A Film on Life in the Time of COVID

When I last had the opportunity to review the work of Hsuan-Yu Pan, a Taiwanese-raised, New York City-based documentarian, I remarked on her keen ability to capture the elements that define cultural identity and community through a brilliant blend of imagery and sound. For example, in SHINOBU, she tracked the tradition of flute-making as culture-shaping force. HEAR, EAT, HOME exquisitely and lovingly revealed the power of both food and the arts in building community and cultivating civility.

In her latest film, ALONE/TOGETHER, she builds on her body of work with an eye-opening account of the human experience in the time of COVID.

This is matter-of-fact straight-shooting film-making ~ no embellishments ~ honestly recording the voices of people from throughout the world ~ each in their native language ~ expressing the frustrations, fears, and personal toll that the pandemic has imposed on their lives. (A partial list of the participants is included at the end of this review.)

The scope of the testimonials is global. Citizens from the near and far corners of the world give witness to the costs and even benefits of isolation and self-reliance. They speak to the strengths and limitations of humanity in dark times ~ how crisis can bring out the best and the worst in us: How, in solitude, we may discover ourselves. How, under the rules and regulations of lockdown, people may cope, complain, adapt, and learn life lessons while governments control, confuse, and confine. How, when schools are closed, mothers and fathers turn homeward and become teachers to their children. How tradesmen suffer the costs of lost business. How fear turns to anger and scapegoating assaults on Asians.

All the dimensions of the pandemic are revealed in this multi-layered chronicle of the epidemic from the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Wuhan (December 2019) to the massive efforts to control the disease and then to what appear now to be signs of recovery.

In the end, the film is a sobering ~ but let me be clear, not at all depressing ~ account of a distinctive human experience whose essence is captured in the film's paradoxical title. The lens magnifies the piece of life that we all have shared in the last two years. It compels us to recognize and acknowledge that we are fundamentally interconnected even if we are disconnected.

In this sense, ALONE/TOGETHER is as well an uplifting film in that it is a bold and stirring reminder of our shared humanity and the imperative of empathy ~ that even when we're alone, we're not. We are one. In filmmaker Hsuan-Yu's own words, "It's a love letter to the world and for people who suffer from the pandemic. We want the film to bring comfort to them."

A final note in the form of a shoutout: Throughout the film, the plaintiff and melodic tones of composer Fung Chern Hwei (accompanied by Hamilton Berry and Vicky Chow) beautifully and tenderly capture the mood and tone of the film.

ALONE/TOGETHER will be available to stream from December 8th at 10:00 p.m. MST through December 14th MST. People can sign up for the presentation by linking to

Film participants (partial):

  • Sean Lu ~ A Taiwanese man on a business trip in Wuhan was locked down for 76 days afraid of getting sick with COVID-19.
  • Ng Chor Guan ~ A Malaysian musician in Germany tells of his overwhelming journey of returning to Malaysia while the world was in lockdown.
  • Daniel Mount ~ A British man had a newborn during the pandemic and he observed his oldest kid's mental health affected by COVID-19.
  • Lyndsi Vasquez ~ An American woman who moved to Italy right before the pandemic tells her experience of being isolated in a place where she knows no one.
  • Rose Tang ~ Rose shares her observation about the COVID-19 outbreak from the perspective of a survivor of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, human rights activist, and mother.
  • Chia Hao Chang in the United Kingdom and Tomoko Akaboshi in New York City ~ Both share their experiences of being attacked due to Asian Hate crimes.
  • Tanya Belogortseva ~ A mother in Russia with four children shares her experience of teaching them when schools were closed and she had limited educational resources.
  • Pema Chodon ~ A Tibetan fashion designer in Queens who makes masks and donates to frontline essential workers and elder people in nursing homes in NYC.
  • Costanza Di Prisco and Bauco de Andrade ~ A couple in the Netherlands describes how the government and society react and function during the pandemic.

Photo credit to Hsuan-Yu Pan

Pan Video ~ ~ Contact:

From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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