Two years after Nigeria fended off what could have been a devastating Ebola epidemic, the 12-week ordeal is playing out again — only this time, on a movie screen.
The Nigerian docudrama “93 Days,” which premiered in Lagos on Tuesday, chronicles the harrowing weeks in the summer of 2014 when a man ill with the Ebola virus arrived in the city from Liberia.
Ebola is transmitted by contact with infected bodily fluids, and Lagos, a densely-populated city of 20 million where people shop in packed markets and ride on overcrowded buses, presented an ideal environment for the virus to spread.
Nigerian public health officials, along with bodies like the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, sprang into action and contained the virus within a few weeks. The country was certified free of the virus that October.
Eight people died, but that number was just a fraction of the over 11,000 who would die overall, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“93 Days” dramatizes the work of Nigerian and international health workers who responded to the virus’s arrival in the city and prevented its transmission.
“It’s a success story, it’s a story of how Nigerians came together to fight this dreadful disease. And very rarely do we have this kind of beautiful story being told about ourselves,” said producer Bolanle Austen-Peters.
The movie was shot in the same neighborhoods and in some of the same buildings where sick patients were treated. That gave it an unusual level of realism.
“Some of the doctors were actually there and they were acting as consultants on the movie,” said Sola Oyebade, an actor who plays an angry diplomat. A bloody scene involving an infected patient and some nurses had to be shot multiple times because the doctors said it wasn’t true to real life.
“We shot that about 20 times. And the doctors kept saying, ‘no, that wasn’t how it was, this was how it was,’” Oyebade said.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest city and an international transportation hub. Had Ebola spread in the city, the fear was that it could have quickly moved to neighboring countries or beyond.
Director Steve Gukas said he hopes people who watch the movie understand how closely people in far-flung parts of the world are connected.
“We need to care more, we need to collaborate more, because the truth is, the way Nigeria was able to defeat Ebola was through shared collaboration. And it wasn’t just collaboration of Nigerians,” Gukas said.
The film premiered earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released in Nigerian theaters on Friday. Gukas said he also wants to distribute the film internationally.