The Year of the Everlasting Storm (2021)

Directed By: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, David Lowrey, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Starring: Yu Zhang, Dongyu Zhou

Plot Summary: A love letter to cinema, shot across the US, Iran, Chile, China and Thailand, by seven of today’s most vital filmmakers. New life in the old house. A break away, a reunion. Surveillance and reconciliation. An unrecognizable world, in the year of the everlasting storm.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered filmmaking as we know it. From mega-billion-dollar studios, to small indie studios to filmmakers with a shoestring budget, everyone has been deeply impacted. This didn’t keep filmmakers down, it just made them get more creative with their chosen craft. Such is the case with the anthology The Year of the Everlasting Storm. This film sought to give a platform to filmmakers whilst in lockdown. For a little context behind this film here is the Productor’s Statement sourced from the films press kit:

We developed a set of rules that were intended to reflect the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)’s guidance at the time:

  1. Shooting will be confined to the location of filmmaker quarantine. Filmmakers may not shoot in publics paces.
  2. On-set cast and crew will be limited to those in quarantine on location.
  3. Props, costumes, and production equipment will be limited to those onsite.
  4. All genres and modes of filmmaking are encouraged but temporal and geographic continuity must be maintained. Fiction films must be written in the present. Non-fiction films must document this moment. Animation, archival and browser action are all permitted, as long as there is evidence within the film that it takes place in the here and now.
  5. 5. Production and post-production crew members will work from home.

Any collaboration with those not on location must be engaged remotely. As we signed up our filmmakers and began developing their ideas with them over the course of the summer of 2020, the ground of the pandemic began to shift underneath us, along with the scientific community’s guidance. We quickly realized that each country we were working in had its own approach to the pandemic. The CDC, whose guidance we had originally used to develop our rules, was a United States government agency, exposing our own bias as American producers. And even within each country, nothing was static. Some of the original rules no longer made sense. Much like every individual during this pandemic, we quickly found ourselves in a position to arbitrate between which rules could be broken and which could not. In life, rules are broken for reasons both practical and poetic. In art, it is the same.

The movie clocks in at just over two hours long. Thankfully, it does not feel like it with segments that range in the twenty-thirty minutes or less. Each film comes from a different part of the globe, thus offering a totally fresh, eye-opening commentary on dealing with life during a global pandemic. I think each segment is great in its own ways, but there were a few that really stood at to me. The first is a segment from Iran. Entitled Life, writer director and executive producers Jafar Panahi provides a loving snapshot that focuses on an elderly woman coming to stay with her family during these scary times. First, she is repelled by the family’s pet iguana that freely roams the house. Later, she bonds with it. In less than twenty minutes, Panahi gives us a warm glimpse into a loving household whilst also injecting a rich layer of culture and heritage. The other standout for me is the second segment entitled The Break Away by writer director Anthony Chen.

The story follows a young family that is dealing with taking care of a very young son during this crazy and uncertain time. Conflicts arise when the husband loses his job, leaving the mother the main source of income. Like Panahi, Chen is able to craft what feels like a very real peek into a family’s life. Stripped of any Hollywoodized glamour, we get a heartbreaking at times but ultimately optimistic tale. The segment is well photographed and acted by its leads.

In total there are seven segments offering a wide range of experiences and worldviews. I think if you take one thing away from this film it would be that no matter where you are, from China to Iran to the USA we all are dealing with very similar situations. This is an overall comforting feeling amidst a very stressful and strange period in human history. The Year of the Everlasting Storm is a painfully real, beautiful, somber and at times uplifting and joyful navigation into this “new normal”.

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