Scene from movie

Dr. Ali S. Kahn (left), former director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, is one of the health experts interviewed in The Curve.

I’ll never forget the first time I was warned that COVID-19 might disrupt our lives. It was early March, and I was meeting with other board members of a local social-dance group. On the agenda was the question of whether we would soon need to cancel our events to keep our dancers safe. 

Naively, I doubted it would come to that, reasoning that U.S. health authorities would be able to control the outbreak since they could learn from China’s experiences. That, of course, turned out to be disastrously wrong. Instead, President Donald J. Trump and the rest of the government totally botched the country’s pandemic response.

If you still have any doubts about that, you might want to set aside an hour to watch The Curve. Written and directed by Adam Benzine and bankrolled through crowdfunding, the documentary is a step-by-step explanation of just what went wrong.   

With help from medical experts and journalists, Benzine looks back at 90 days (Jan. 15 through April 13) during which the pandemic began making inroads in America. News footage and graphics complete his portrait of what reporter Sonia Shah calls “the absolutely chaotic response of the U.S. government.” 

Trump doesn’t get all of the filmmaker’s blame, but he rightfully gets most of it. Not only does he have trouble listening to advice, Dr. Ilan Goldenberg explains, but he was more concerned about the economy and his own re-election efforts than he was about fighting the virus.

Trump did issue a Chinese travel ban, as he so often reminds us, but it covered only foreign nationals, not Americans returning from China. Besides, the film argues, travel bans are too porous and easily circumvented to serve as an effective tool against pandemics.

What really was needed was widespread testing in order to chart the virus’s spread, but here the Centers for Disease Control is singled out for dropping the ball. Rather than using existing tests from overseas, the CDC created its own, then discovered belatedly that the test was flawed. This delayed the country’s response by a crucial month.

And even after a test was perfected, stringent guidelines made it impossible for most people to take it. Though the president famously bragged that anyone who wanted a test could get a test, this—like so many of his statements on COVID-19—was a lie. 

By March 13, the situation across the country had gotten so bad that Trump was forced to declare a national emergency and institute guidelines that discouraged, for example, international travel or congregating in groups of more than 10. However, he soon began pushing to reopen society as early as Easter (April 12). He also undercut health experts’ advice by declining to wear a mask himself and by recommending unproven treatments such as the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.

All the while, Trump predicted the virus would simply go away when the weather got warmer and repeatedly claimed that it was under control. Robert Samuels, a political reporter for The Washington Post, explains that this was typical behavior for a businessman who had always prioritized appearance over reality. 

Since we lived through it, it’s likely that most of us already know the bulk of this sad story, but The Curve does a good job of filling in details we might have missed or forgotten. Benzine makes his points concisely and powerfully with help from editor Tiffany Beaudin, who often combines multiple images into split-screen compositions, and composer Joel Goodman, who created the dramatic score.

Thinking it would be valuable for Americans to view this informative flick before casting their vote, the filmmaker’s original plan was to offer it free of charge beginning two weeks before Election Day. That deadline was apparently missed, but it is now available and can be viewed gratis through Nov. 4.

Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)

The Curve may be viewed free of charge through Nov. 4 at

More reviews by Richard Ades are available on his blog,