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Hope is a powerful drug

A city of eight million crushed by a pandemic, finds hope in an immigrant family’s perspective during the worst of the COVID shutdown.


An immigrant recounts how he and his family survived during NYC’s historic pandemic shutdown during the spring of 2020 when more than 8 million people disappeared from its streets. A personal diary of an eerily empty & haunting metropolis captured while running through city streets, embalmed in a state of suspended animation. Set against a global pandemic, social unrest and an anti-immigrant fervor, this short documentary captures the surreal experience of a teeming city laid bare and the hope for its future.

Winner of six film festival awards.

the film
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The facts
The mission


A once in our lifetime event

As the world went into lockdown in March of 2020, I knew this was something monumental, unprecedented. I was inspired to document what was happening in New York City after seeing the grim news out of Italy a month earlier. Italians locked down and confined to their homes, with the only solace being their ritual evening clapping in homage to the frontline workers but also a link to connect to the outside world.


As unconsenting participants in a global pandemic, confined to our apartments, inside looking out, I had a choice. Be an armchair witness glued to the tv waiting for signs of hope or be outside looking in and document a city devoid of its usual bustling 9 million denizens, its car horns, its brash sounds of life. This was filmed when a thousand people a day were dying from COVID in New York City. The fear was palpable. You will see a perspective that many will never see in their lifetime. In that process I rediscovered what is special about New York City and all cities, while also navigating family life.


I’d trained for the New York City Half Marathon, that was cancelled a week before the shutdown. I used that training to run the empty streets of Manhattan and document a city of 9 million, now laid bare for the first time in its history. It felt like running in a museum.

Against the pandemic backdrop was a rapidly growing racial injustice movement and an anti-immigrant fervor, of which I am an immigrant. It reminded me that New York is a city built on immigrants and cities are resilient for a reason and will survive this. I couldn’t get access to film equipment, so I purchased a Gimbal online and used my iPhone X to film. I then used the shutdown to learn how to edit a film. Making this film allowed me to keep my sanity during this grim period in our collective history and form a deeper connection with my family.


Making of

How does one make anything during a lockdown?

Because everything was shut down in New York during the spring of 2020, O’Toole couldn’t rent camera equipment, so he shot the film on his iPhone, learned how to edit in the shutdown and worked with all the production crew remotely to finish the project. So they worked via Zoom, email and phone to make this project. The Iphone was a good choice in that it reflects how most people document their lives these days, via their smart phones and offers a level of realism that captured those empty city streets.

There’s a multinational effort on the team behind Outside In.

The poem was written by a Chinese born award winning immigrant now based in Minneapolis. The narrator is an Irish born NY/London based actor. The director is an Irish born immigrant living in the USA for over 27 years. And the composer is a Chennai based musician composing the music through the prism of India’s own brutal lockdown. The facemask worn by O'Toole, are made by fashion designer Stacy Igel, founder of BOY MEETS GIRL® and part of the Survivor Corp collection for survivors of COVID.

All shared a global experience of isolation, anxiety and horror but ultimately a hope for the future.

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