Friday, March 28, 2014

Movie Recommendation - Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is a 2012 documentary directed by Alison Klayman. It is 1 1/2 hrs. and available on Netflix and it is a very beautiful and inspiring film.

Ai Weiwei is an artist and activist living in Beijing. He was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, but after collaborating with architects to design the stadium, he later protested the Olympics. In the film he says, "I am not for the kind of Olympics that forces the migrants out of the city. To tell the ordinary citizens they should not participate but to just make a "fake smile" for the foreigners and become purely Party's propaganda...which is very scary"

His art is always political and symbolic, and can be quite confrontational. The documentary interviews Weiwei, many people who have worked with and for him, and experts in the worlds of art and activism. It's very interesting to hear many perspectives and interpretations of his work, as well as his own explanations for what he's done in his life. 

While his protest of the 2008 Olympics made him internationally famous, it was not well broadcast in China. What made him famous in China was his art and activism after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The earthquake killed many students who were in government schools that were shoddily constructed. The government was not transparent about the deaths of the students, and kept the number of victims secret. Weiwei led a team of people to investigate the deaths and collect names. In 2009 he had over 5,000 names of students who died. He published them on his blog one year after the earthquake. 

His 2009 show So Sorry in Munich featured a piece called Remembering, constructed of backpacks to represent the student victims. Chinese characters spelled out the message, "She lived happily on this earth for 7 years" which came from a letter a woman wrote to Weiwei about her daughter who died in the earthquake. 

The corrupt government in China aimed to censor and silence Ai Weiwei and other political activists and artists who chose to speak out. The documentary chronicles Weiwei's struggles with police brutality, having his home under surveillance, and being treated unfairly by authority figures in his country. He uses his art, his blog, and twitter to speak out and encourage others to take a stand against injustice.
He says, "Blogs and the internet are great inventions for our time because they give regular people an opportunity to change public opinion."

When an interviewer asks him, "Do you ever examine yourself to see why it is that you are so fearless compared to other people?" he replies, "I am so fearful. That's not fearless. I'm more fearful than other people... I act more brave because I know the danger's really there. If you don't act the danger becomes stronger."

Another interesting piece featured in the documentary is Weiwei's 2010 piece Sunflower Seeds, displayed at the Tate Modern in London. The work consists of 100 million individally painted porcelain "seeds" and is a commentary on mass consumerism and the idea of "made in China" and Chinese industry.

One commentator in the documentary suggests that the piece is about "eccentricity. It's about the fact that every entity out there is its own thing.What he's doing is trying to capture for people, to make vivid, the sheer diversity of ideas that exists within China if you look closely enough."

In the film, Ai Weiwei's mother says to an interviewer, "One person cannot solve the problems of the whole country. But if everyone ignores the country's problems, what will happen?"

The documentary shows the many injustices Ai Weiwei faced between 2009 and 2011 including a police beating that resulted in him needing brain surgery; unfair house arrests designed to prevent him from testifying for fellow activist Lio Xiabo and prevent him from attending demonstrations; and having his newly constructed art studio demolished because it was deemed "illegal."

In April 2011 Ai Weiwei went missing. He was detained for 81 days. His disappearance sparked a street art campaign and many protests online and in China. 

The documentary ends after his arrest in 2011 but you can read more about his life and work since then online.

I loved this film. It was a beautiful film. I cried, I laughed, and it really made me think. 
If you are interested at all in art, activism, global politics, or just watching a film about an inspiring person, I highly recommend Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. 

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