I’m intrigued by what stays in the mind when the film ends. What lingers after the credits roll? Remaining from this documentary are stunning images of courage. We may think we’re tired of COVID, but we owe ourselves this broader, more uplifting perspective. One critic called “Convergence: Courage in Crisis,” free on Netflix, the “best documentary of 2021.” It shows the extraordinary bravery of ordinary people all over the world, from a doctor in Peru to a researcher at Oxford, working on the vaccine.
Every religious tradition honors its holy ones: the saints in Christianity, the bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The pandemic may have inspired a new, multicultural version: tough, pragmatic and relentlessly faithful. As Dr. Henderson works the night shift at a Miami hospital, the viewer thinks, “he must be exhausted.”
That instinct is confirmed when he leans his head against the elevator door for a brief rest between floors. Then we see him with his wife and two young children, then with the homeless population he serves during the day, under bridges, vulnerable to floods, far removed from any other medical treatment. The worst blow comes when he’s racially profiled and handcuffed by police outside his own home.
Dr. Rosa Luz Lopez looks around her ICU in Lima, and remarks almost casually, “we’ve intubated 8 doctors here.” The stress on the remaining staff must be horrific, especially when they treat COVID patients as young as 15.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreesus comments, “There is no vaccine against false nationalism.” His sad resignation is juxtaposed with a brief clip of Donald Trump ending US aid to WHO when the organization most needs it. The former president blames them for “COVID mismanagement” when perhaps he needs a scapegoat?
The film’s director, Orlando von Einsiedel, has characters tell their own stories; we’re all familiar enough with the narrative arc that began last January. Renata Alves is a GPS navigator for the first reliable ambulance in a Sao Paulo, Brazil favela. It didn’t come from government, but from personal donations. She herself is grieving her mother and brother, but continues to seek COVID patients in the darkest warrens of the slum.
There are several bright spots. A Syrian refugee who’d escaped torture at home offers to help clean hospitals in London. It’s grueling, unheralded labor, and the British government extends bereavement packages to doctors and nurses, but not to immigrant workers like him. When he posts a plea on social media, the policy changes. In Delhi, India, a terrified, pregnant couple passes funeral pyres on the way to a crowded hospital. But their baby arrives healthy; the cry of new life is especially welcome when surrounded by mourning dirges.
Throughout the two hours, the film cuts to University of Oxford Professor Sarah Gilbert furiously peddling her bicycle to work. She is developing the AstraZeneca vaccine and when it’s completed, the celebration is well deserved and mighty. What a triumph for humanity, after such a dark hour.
The film made me feel as I do in the morning when I stand a notch taller, listening to classical music written by a Finnish composer, performed by an orchestra in Prague, featuring a Canadian pianist. It makes me proud to belong to a human family which can generate such beauty, vigor, skill and power.