On January 22, 2020, the United States had one case of COVID-19. A reporter asked President Donald Trump if the country should be concerned about a pandemic.
"No. Not at all," he responded. "And we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be fine."
Two days later, on January 24, Trump tweeted: "It will all work out well."
As of November 10, roughly 10 months since the president uttered the words "totally under control," 239,000 people have died of COVID-19. That's more than anywhere else in the world. In fact, it's almost double the second highest rate, with India having lost 127,000.
More than 10 million people have been diagnosed, accounting for one fifth of the world's total cases. Infection rates are speeding up rather than slowing down.
Watch the trailer for Totally Under Control right here. Post continues below.
Oscar-winning writer-director Alex Gibney, best known for his work on Going Clear and The Inventor, found himself in an all too common situation early in 2020. A friend died from COVID-19 and another was on a ventilator. The US government had failed, clearly, to contain the virus, while so many other countries had succeeded. Described by Esquire magazine as "the most important documentarian of our time," Gibney decided to make a film about the US response to a global pandemic. And he wanted it released before the election.
Along with his co-directors, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, Gibney embarked on what would have felt like an impossible task: filming a documentary at a time when you're not meant to be leaving the house.
Cinematographer Ben Bloodwell came up with a specialised kit to send to subjects so they could film themselves, and other interviewees sat in large rooms, with camera operators hidden behind plastic shields.
The two-hour documentary interviews government whistleblowers and experts from all over the world about what the US government knew and had at their disposal to stop the spread of COVID-19. In 2019 for example, the Department of Health and Human Services simulated a pandemic described to share "eerie similarities" to the coronavirus. They came to a number of conclusions and put together a playbook in the event of a real life pandemic.