Amazing documentaries just keep showing up in my inbox and Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars is no exception. The film focuses on Jena Ellenwood, a bartender in Queens, New York as COVID-19 drives bars to close their doors in March, 2020. The film interviews patrons, bartenders, owners, and medical professionals to paint a picture of life in New York at the start of the pandemic and throughout the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a shared experience, one that we all lived through and, as such, the documentary could be difficult for some to watch. It is, in fact, difficult to make it through the documentary without shedding a few tears. Yet, hearing about these shared experiences is somehow healing… it is as heartwarming as it is devastating.
It is difficult to describe the documentary as it follows, in a COVID safe way, the lives of these individuals at a time when the entire world was confused and unsure of what was happening. We all lived it, so there’s not a lot to add, but this puts a human face on the pandemic that many of us may not have seen. While we all dealt with our own struggles and the struggles of our families and friends, we didn’t all have the strength or emotional fortitude to be aware of what was happening to our neighbours. This documentary lets you see into someone else’s life and experience what they were experiencing and feel what they were feeling.
I think, living in Toronto, I can empathize with the individuals featured in this documentary because I experienced some of what they experienced. I live in a small apartment without a yard, without a lot of space. It is very confining. Getting out be it to a restaurant, bar, park, or, in my case, comic shop is a critical aspect of staying sane when you live in cramped quarters in a major metropolitan hub. I can understand how the people interviewed felt like they were losing their family on top of losing their livelihoods. In that way, this documentary may be very eye opening to individuals in small towns who didn’t experience COVID-19 the way those of us in the biggest cities did. When your case counts peak at a dozen people, it is a bit harder to understand than when you live in a city that has run out of body bags and morgue space, in cities where freezer trucks are used for corpse storage.
Seeing the emotion, hearing the anxiety in their voices, and feeling their frustration is what makes this documentary so powerful. It is a time capsule that was only created because writer, producer, and director Johnny Sweet thought to start capturing and recording as the onset of this powerful global event. Not only will Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars stand as a reminder of the difficulty the world experienced, it will stand as a character study of the people involved. This film could be used for education purposes in the decades to come, as a reminder of why the vaccine is so important and why listening to the science was so critical. It would be interesting to see this film used as a social experiment. Anyone who shares COVID-19 disinformation on social media should have their accounts locked until they watch this film, until they see how the pandemic impacted the lives of others. This film offers a window into one of the most trying times our generation has scene and it should not be forgotten.
Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars was released in virtual theatres on July 16 and will get a wider digital release on August 18.
Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars
Movie title: Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars
Movie description: In March 2020, business-as-usual comes to a grinding halt as COVID-19 sweeps through New York, quickly establishing Queens as the epicenter of the pandemic in not only the state of New York, but throughout the entire country. Bars and restaurants are ordered to close, leaving thousands of hospitality workers stranded without work and an uncertain future. Jena and her friends vent their frustrations and anxieties, not only surrounding the seemingly hopeless economic uncertainty, but also the deadly virus that threatens their very lives.
Date published: 2021-07-16
Director(s): Johnny Sweet
Actor(s): Jena Ellenwood