FRONTLINE’s Unprecedented Documentary Filmed Inside a Hospital Battling COVID-19; Tuesday, May 19 at 10 pm

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Inside Italy’s COVID War

Tues., May 19, 2020
Streaming at 7 pm at & in the PBS Video App
Airing at 10 pm on PBS and on YouTube | Twitter: @frontlinepbs
Instagram: @frontlinepbs | YouTube:


As the coronavirus pandemic devastates countries across the globe, much of the suffering has taken place beyond the view of news cameras — in besieged hospital units, closed to visitors, where doctors and nurses try to save the lives of patients battling COVID-19 without contracting the highly infectious disease themselves.

On May 19, with unprecedented access, FRONTLINE goes inside one such unit and documents these harrowing, heroic scenes. Inside Italy’s COVID War, streaming online at 7 pm and premiering on PBS at 10 pm, is a rare, in-depth documentary filmed inside a hospital battling the coronavirus outbreak.

Logo for the PBS program Frontline“It’s a very unfair battle. We have few weapons. The virus has them all. But with the few we have, we are resisting,” says Dr. Francesca Mangiatordi, a senior ER doctor at hard-hit Cremona Hospital in northern Italy.

Inside Italy’s COVID War follows Mangiatordi, her staff and her patients as they battle COVID-19 in a region that’s at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak — from the darkest days, to the signs of hope. Lyrical and profound, it’s directed with astonishing intimacy by award-winning FRONTLINE filmmaker Sasha Joelle Achilli, who was born and raised in northern Italy and who returned there to document the coronavirus fight.

Through her lens, we watch from the front lines as the virus threatens to overwhelm Italy’s health care system, as doctors are forced to make life-and-death decisions, and as younger and younger patients become critically ill with the virus.

An 18-year-old boy fights for his life on a ventilator; his mother entreats the nurses to “caress him as if she were doing it.” A 30-year-old woman begs a nurse to tell her the truth about her odds; she’s a mother of three girls, and “the little one can’t live without me,” she says.

“The next one that tells me it only affects the elderly, I’ll spit in their eye,” Mangiatordi says after the death of a 42-year-old man from COVID-19.

The deaths mount so quickly that ICU nurse Cristina Pilati can barely keep track. “The terrible thing is, the beds don’t even have time to cool before they are taken up by other patients,” she says. Yet like her colleagues, she is determined to maintain her humanity — and remind her patients of theirs: In one moving scene, Pilati sings “In the Arms of the Angel” as she cares for people hooked up on ventilators.

Nurse wearing N95 maskDespite precautions, doctors and nurses in Mangiatordi’s unit soon begin falling ill with COVID-19 themselves. “Yes, it’s a war,” she says. “We’re dropping like flies.”

And her family is fearful that she’ll bring the virus home to them.

But Mangiatordi is determined not to give up.

“I am a doctor,” she says. “It’s what I always wanted to do.”

Gripping and unforgettable, Inside Italy’s COVID War premieres Tues., May 19. It will be available to watch in full, for free in the PBS Video App and at starting at 7 p.m. E.D.T.  It will premiere on PBS stations and on YouTube at 10 p.m. E.D.T.  For more reporting from FRONTLINE on COVID-19, listen to Covering Coronavirus, a special podcast series from the FRONTLINE Dispatch.



Inside Italy’s COVID War is a FRONTLINE Production with Mongoose Pictures in association with BBC. The producer and director is Sasha Joelle Achilli. The senior producer is Dan Edge. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.