Redbridge doctor creates trailblazing documentary inspired by her experience of Covid-19
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‘Start. Stop. Repeat’, a trailblazing new documentary by Redbridge’s Dr Nidhi Gupta, offers a fascinating insight into pandemics of past and present
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it... This proverb, widely attributed to the writer and philosopher George Santayana, is one that we’re all bound to be familiar with.
However, in recent months it’s taken on a whole new meaning in relation to the widespread impact of Covid-19, which is undoubtedly one of the most turbulent times in recent history.
It’s transformed the way we live and the way we interact, but although we have a tendency to focus on coronavirus’ newness and unfamiliarity, global pandemics are far from a modern phenomenon – so why weren’t we better prepared?
This is one of the key questions being asked by Dr Nidhi Gupta, an NHS doctor and filmmaker from Redbridge, as she produces and directs her new documentary ‘Start. Stop. Repeat’.
It will explore the impact of the current pandemic on global society, as well as offering an in-depth look at previous health scares, questioning what we can learn and what we’ve failed to learn – and what the future holds.
‘Start. Stop. Repeat’ is informed by a unique personal insight into the realities of coronavirus: Nidhi served as a frontline doctor in a London hospital during the pandemic, which saw her treating cases day in, day out.
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“We were learning with each patient, because the disease isn’t even 12 months old yet,” she recalls. “We had some of the earliest cases recorded in the UK here, so with every patient it was like, ‘oh ok, that’s another symptom and another issue’. We don’t have a treatment for it, so often you’re feeling quite helpless. It’s not like a bacterial infection where you give antibiotics and expect people to get better.”
Nidhi recounts the challenges that came from working in an environment where all anyone could talk about was – perhaps unsurprisingly – coronavirus, and the mental impact of seeing entire families and communities devastated. But then Nidhi became infected with the virus herself, which resulted in her spending a week at Whipps Cross Hospital.
“I’m still recovering,” she admits when we speak a few months later, and although she has since returned to work, it’s clear that she is still a long way from full health. “It’s trying to find that balance of keeping my mind and body active, but not so much that I collapse in bed at 5pm.”
However, her time off work did give rise to a new idea. “I was sat on my sofa not able to do much, so I was reading a lot about previous pandemics,” Nidhi explains. “From my training in infectious diseases, I knew that we were aware another pandemic was due, but I realised I didn’t actually know a lot about previous ones. I started reading about the Spanish Flu and the debates that went on about face masks and a lack of treatment, and it’s like ‘this could all be today!’”
With that, the idea for ‘Start. Stop. Repeat’ came into being, and she is now in the midst of the production stages. Although this is her first documentary, Nidhi is no stranger to the world of filmmaking – and despite her background being in medicine, she somehow finds a way to combine the two careers.
Nidhi studied biochemistry before completing the medicine graduate entry programme at St George’s, University of London, and has worked for the NHS since 2004; she also found time to intern at the WHO, and worked out in Papua New Guinea.
“I’m a bit of a restless soul – I like doing lots of things,” she says.
As if that needed any more evidence, Nidhi set up a medicine education platform called Clinical Skills Pro about six years ago, which aims to offer an alternative to the hugely expensive training courses. The platform features a wide range of online videos, which are available at about 10 per cent of the cost of the normal post-graduate training courses.
This online platform is where Nidhi’s two passions, as both a filmmaker and a doctor, combine. In 2011 she founded her own production company, Busy Doctors’ Films, and has since created an eclectic catalogue of non-fiction pieces: they range in their scope from sci-fi drama to an exploration of space sounds, so it’s fair to say that ‘Start. Stop. Repeat’ is charting new territory.
For this documentary, Nidhi has combined fascinating archive footage alongside interviews with scholars, activists and political figures. As well as shedding light on what the future holds, the documentary will interrogate the impacts and consequences of previous pandemics.
Nidhi explains that among a huge number of other monumental changes, the 1918 Spanish Flu had a profound impact on the beliefs of Gandhi and the principles of Satyagraha, and it also helped in transforming the role of women in society.
“In Korea, because more Koreans died than in the Japanese Empire, it catalysed the March 1, 1919 uprising against the Empire,” she adds, and today we’re already beginning to see that coronavirus has catalysed changes in our society too. “Look at what happened with the Black Lives Matter protests – people are taking about inequality,” Nidhi reasons.
We’ve also seen economies completely crumble, with some sections of the population – such as BAME communities and key workers – suffering disproportionately.
“So how is it that we’re not learning from the past?” Nidhi stresses. “We need to learn from our history, and because I’ve seen so much suffering and pain, I want to find something positive. If we can improve the lives of essential workers, if we can improve race relations, if we can make society fairer, then hopefully this pain and loss won’t have been in vain.”
Crucially, the documentary is being crowdfunded, with fundraising currently underway; the campaign was launched this summer in partnership with the platform Greenlit, and the hope is that this will encourage people to feel a sense of involvement and ownership with the documentary.
“It’s a non-profit film, so any profits will go to The Trussell Trust,” Nidhi explains. “What we’re trying to do is to be part of the conversation, asking ‘what world do we want to emerge into’, and part of that is including as many people as possible. This is about the community; it’s about working together.”
Find out more about how you can get involved at greenlit.fund/project/start-stop-repeat