I witnessed the city I grew up in from different perspectives

by Gabriella Dunn

During a plague, why not make art?

Throughout the past year of dealing with a global pandemic, Covid-19 inspired many trends to emerge. A notable trend that popped up everywhere in early March was videos showing what cities looked like at the beginning of lockdowns. A popular video that inspired this trend was from the magazine The New Yorker. The footage shows conventional popular tourist destinations empty as if the world had come to a complete stop. These videos had a way of encapsulating the drastic change the world had to make to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic while spreading a message of hope and perseverance. 

After watching a few of these videos, I was inspired to create my own. A fantastic video that inspired mine was “Come Together, Stay Apart,” a video showing Vancouver in lockdown by the Spencer Watson. “Come together, Stay Apart” delivers an essence of shock to the viewer as you watch a once vibrant city become a deserted wasteland. The video’s harshness is juxtaposed with hundreds of people banging pots and pans together for health care workers, a tradition popularized at the beginning of quarantine. 

Following the trend, I made a short video of what Edmonton looked like in mid-April while Albertans were still experiencing the first lockdown. I was considered an essential worker and soon became the only member in my household with a job. Looking for an outlet to express myself, I grabbed my phone, a homemade mask, and what little Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer I had left and set out.

I did this personal project to clear my head for a short while, as I was still adjusting to my new claustrophobic normal. I took the bus to the University of Alberta, a route that I had taken each morning only a month earlier. This was slightly jarring, as I still hadn’t accepted the whole reality of the situation. I was still hopeful that I’d be back to partying with friends and travelling by June 2020. I started my three-hour walk around downtown after arriving at the HUB Mall transit centre. Filming almost anything I saw, I attempted to encapsulate the same feelings other videos had previously captured. I wanted to portray the shocking reality we all faced while exploring our cities after March 2020. 

Being a film studies minor student gave me some basic knowledge on composing a shot. While filming the first video, my goal was to emphasize empty space within the city. I wanted to portray the feeling of isolation and juxtapose it with wide shots of barren areas. Regarding my song choice, despite the music fitting the video’s tone so well, I honestly choose it based on accidental circumstances. I listened to a lot of Frank Ocean that week and thought Godspeed was a beautiful song. Could there be a subconscious meaning behind my choice? Perhaps, but I will acknowledge how the music enhances the sombre feeling demonstrated in the video.

Around nine months later, I was inspired to film an update in the middle of a second lockdown. This time my perspective on the pandemic had changed and the severity of the situation had fully set in. No longer did the naïve thought that things would be ‘back to normal’ within a couple of months possess my mind.

I, along with the rest of the world, had just survived the trauma the year 2020 abundantly provided for us all. I wanted to document how Edmonton had evolved to accommodate COVID-19.

So in the middle of January 2021 – luckily before the cold snap – I set out around downtown to film the city once more. As the pandemic progressed, I had acquired a whole glove compartment of masks ready for use and an adequate amount of hand sanitizer at my disposal.

This is the first difference I took note of at the beginning of this project. Shut down businesses and social distancing reminders lined the hallways of malls. All around were people attempting to do mundane tasks that brought them back to the likeness of normalcy pre-Covid. I emphasized more crowded spaces, as I wanted to display a contrasting difference between my first project. My intent with my updated project was to demonstrate Edmonton’s adaptation to the challenges of Covid-19 and to portray Edmontonians’ perseverance that got us through the chaos of 2020.

While filming both contributions to this project, I witnessed the city I grew up in from different perspectives. One perspective was inspired by the initial shock of a natural disaster that made the world come to a complete stop. Streets were empty, while people were hopeful that this situation would only last a couple of months. The updated perspective came from living through this ongoing disaster for the past ten months, demonstrating how society has adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While both videos are amateur attempts at portraying these effects, I’m glad I documented both situations to use for future reference. I hope to continue this series once I receive the vaccine, and document what Edmonton looks like post-pandemic.