Journalist turned documentary filmmaker, Alison Klayman, makes her debut with Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry providing viewers with powerful and moving images and a well written story about the internationally famous artist and activist, Ai WeiWei. From start to finish, the 91 minute story about this individual can have the viewer feel many emotions; happiness to sadness and all points in between. There is plenty to be read about the artist’s accomplishments, actions and comments with his world views, but Klayman’s feature film tells the story of his life with such an interesting perspective that it maintains the viewer engaged throughout.
Klayman’s documentary is one not to be missed; artists of any medium will connect with parts of his life or perhaps all of it, even if not born and raised in China. The internationally known contemporary artist’s world is more than nominations or awards and becomes so much more as the viewer learns about Ai WeiWei’s life journey around the world and in his native China, through Klayman’s unprecedented access to the artist.
One portion of the documentary that stands out is about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that had student casualties when many schools collapsed. Another Chinese artist started an investigation that Ai WeiWei supported by year end. A list of students killed in the earthquake was compiled by the “citizen’s investigation”, with 5,385 names accumulated by volunteers as of April 2009. The collected names and articles documenting the investigation were published by Ai, but later shut down by Chinese authorities in May 2009. He posted his list of deceased schoolchildren’s names on the wall of his office at FAKE Design in Beijing.
Prior to this film I was not aware that a printed list of children’s names can provoke such emotion. But wait until the scenes in Munich, Germany from the installation of artwork, Remembering, on Haus der Kunst’s façade involving 9,000 backpacks. Although he may be considered an “outspoken domestic critic,” words are not needed in some of the scenes to convey a powerful statement.
Despite strict censorship in his country, Ai frequently uses his blog and Twitter get his message out to millions of Chinese citizens. He voices what many think but do not say out loud. Ai disappeared into police custody for almost three months in April 2011. Even though he had his blog closed, is beat by law enforcement, had his newly built studio bulldozed or in secret detention, Ai WeiWei does not stop.
Starting with the Sundance Film Festival this year where it won the Special Jury Prize, Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry has been screened in at least five other film festivals, both in the U.S. and internationally, with five more starting this month. The film has had a limited release in the U.S. in late July, but arrives in Austin theaters on August 10th. It does have an R MPAA rating, so be prepared to watch some unsettling scenes. It is an amazing film.