Jerry Du wanted to know how people were dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A junior at High School North, Du came up with the idea to film a COVID-19-related documentary to help him find out.
He says he believed the project would be a good way to connect with some of his new neighbors (he had just moved to West Windsor last summer) and also find out how people were dealing with the unprecedented situation.
Du, 16, interviewed many different people (ranging from on-call doctors to students) and asked them about their experiences during the pandemic. The answers he received were not only informative, but relatable.
He then took the footage from those interviews and compiled them into a 53-minute-long video that he has posted on YouTube (see above).
Interviewed were Dhaval Shah, Srinivas Mandayam, Sonia Ng, Jian Zhao, Parag Samarth, Rahul Purohit, Akshith Ramadugs and Rohan Joglekar.
Du says he found that when it comes to COVID-19, the number of people with depression and anxiety has increased, and often, these people feel isolated. However, he hopes his project reassures people that they’re not alone.
The News interviewed Du via email regarding his project. Below is an edited version of his answers.
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WWP News: Tell us a little about your thinking behind the project
Jerry Du: It’s been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Many lives have been lost because of this virus, and many more disrupted. People have been isolated during the quarantine, schools turned online, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games were cancelled.
This invisible enemy has created isolation in all possible ways that we can or can’t even imagine. Many people had thoughts that they struggled to find listeners to share with during isolation.
After going through the pandemic for one year, I surely believe that people had lots to say. I decided to start from the community I live in, Windsor Ponds, which is located right off Village Road, across from the Mercer Oaks Golf Course.
I recorded their responses to share with the wider community. During the interviews, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that people had a lot to say.
Dr. Sonia Ng also touched on this topic, and she liked the idea of community involvement. However, for her, “all of them involve risks.” In summary, most people believe that so long as the risks are being addressed, it is certainly possible to organize some events that could help lift up the community spirit.
There are a lot of things to learn from my video. In the long run, by relating to each other through hearing from the interviewees’ potential shared experiences and thoughts, I am confident that this video will help us all become more connected even during isolation.
As someone who recently moved to WW-P from Boston last summer, I believe that reaching out to people is a great way to immerse myself into the community. Under “normal” circumstances, playing sports is my way of getting to know people.
Unfortunately, this pandemic makes everything abnormal, so I figured that doing an interview project would be a great way to do so.
In addition, I saw a lot of other benefits of doing this project. For example, people would learn about the impacts of covid-19 from every real person, not the media.
Also, the neighbors I interviewed would have an opportunity to express their thoughts after a year of living an isolated life. Throughout the interview, I did see how much people desired to express themselves and be heard.
WWP: Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.
JD: I am an only child, though I do consider my cat, Tigger, to be my dear brother. My dad is a mechanical engineering professor, and my mom is a consulting engineer cleaning up our water, so I guess that I have a pretty normal family.
I certainly love sports, wrestling, table tennis, soccer, you name it. I’m also a member of my school’s debate team, and I would consider myself a political junkie.
WWP: What questions did you ask, and did you have a general idea of how people would respond to your questions based on your own personal experiences or what you’ve heard?
JD: I asked six questions, which included how COVID-19 impacted their lives, what they’re looking forward to after COVID-19 is over, their perceptions on how the government responded to the pandemic, and others. I tried to create open-end questions and be open-minded when I did the interview.
Most people are looking forward to a vacation or social life after COVID-19 ends. People generally view the government’s response to COVID-19 negatively, for reasons ranging from poor distribution of PPE’s to loose regulations on social distancing.
One thing that had not been expected was that people are eager to express their feelings and share their thoughts and opinions.
WWP: What was your thought process in terms of production and editing the video?
JD: I wanted my video to be fun and relaxing, and also informative. The video was pretty long, as there is a lot of first-hand information there. After some cutting and editing, I also put timestamps in the video to take care of people’s attention span. My dad paid for a professional video editing software, which I will have to pay him back for later.
WWP: Is this your first project or have you worked on other productions in the past?
JD: I did some productions as school projects, but this is my first time doing an independent production.
WWP: Was there anything new that you learned as the director/interviewer?
JD: There are many new things I learned. First of all, I had to climb a learning curve to learn about how to use a video editing software. Second, as an interviewer, I was pleasantly surprised about how people are willing to talk to a “kinda” stranger.
They all took the interview pretty seriously. One interviewee even requested that I send my questions to him before the interview so that he could get prepared.
Last, and the most important, I sensed that people tend to look at the same situation from very different perspectives. Although I hate this pandemic because I couldn’t do sports, and virtual debates were not as fun as in-person debates, I did understand some work-from-home people are able to have more family time.
WWP: Can you share some stories that you heard that were particularly interesting or impactful to you?
JD: I remember hearing from Rahul (Purohit) that before COVID-19, he didn’t really get to see his dad a lot because his dad had to travel a lot due to his busy job. However, his family became more connected after COVID-19 hit, so Rahul was actually able to spend more time with his father, which shows that in addition to all the negative impacts of COVID-19, there are certainly some positive aspects, and that story certainly provides some insights into this theory.
My next door neighbor Sonia (Ng)works at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She said that hospitals have to compete for personal protective equipment because the government did not do a good job distributing them.
Rahul also shared some ideas of community involvement, such as a running group (with social distancing practices of course).
WWP: Are you planning on making a follow-up post-COVID video?
JD: Definitely. I will probably organize some activities once this pandemic is over and do another follow-up interview then.
Before that, because I saw needs and desires for building connections among people, I planned to organize some activities for younger students, maybe voice acting a cartoon on Zoom to create some fun way for them to meet and interact with their peers.
WWP: Is visual media something you plan to pursue further? If not, what are you planning to study in college?
JD: I probably would not pursue visual media to the extent of majoring in it in college. It was fun making the video, so I will consider it a small hobby. However, I am more interested in engineering and philosophy, and I may do a double major in college.
WWP: What other issues are you interested in covering in future projects?
JD: I believe that any issue relevant to the majority of the people in America would certainly be interesting ones. For example, everyone watched the Black Lives Matter protests on the news, and in the wake of the summer unrest, different opinions would certainly arise.
I am planning on interviewing some students in my school to learn about their thoughts on race relations after watching on the news the protests and the capitol riot.
WWP: Do you have any final thoughts?
JD: I certainly enjoyed interviewing others, and I had lots of fun. As someone who just moved to this new place, I feel that interviewing the locals in WWP certainly helped me connect more with the community.
More importantly, I have found that people, in general, desire to connect with others. I plan to experiment on some ways to help the community more connected. By doing so, I hope our community spirit can be further strengthened.