Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry
Made in: USA (production)
Language: Chinese (Mandarin), English
Director: Alison Klayman
Year: 2012

Synopsis: The documentary follows controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, known to many as one of the designers of the 2008 Olympic stadium in Beijing. The imposing structure is also popularly referred to as the "Bird's nest," but over the years, Ai has distanced himself from the project.

With a large focus on his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government, film director Alison Klayman follows Ai as he undertakes several ambitious artistic installations. Most notably, we are introduced to the 100 million ceramic porcelain bead exhibit which was prominently displayed in 2010 at the Tate Modern in London as well as his show at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, one year prior.

Much of the film concentrates on Ai Weiwei's Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which started after a devastating earthquake in May 2008 claimed the lives of over 5,000 school children. With the government's repeated refusal to divulge any details of the disaster, Ai decided to take action himself.

With a group of over fifty volunteers and researchers, Ai spearheaded an independent investigation to bring to light what the government insists on keeping secret. Those details include names of the deceased and allegations of the school building's shoddy construction, which were believed to be a major contributing factor to the death toll.

As a result, Ai and his followers found themselves repeatedly harassed by authorities, and in some cases, even assaulted. But armed with tools such as digital cameras, the internet, and a legion of Twitter followers, Ai Weiwei continues making a compelling case that authoritarian regimes are going to have a tough time in the 21st Century.

Remarks: Director Alison Klayman creates a very engaging, and often entertaining documentary. Ai's artistic style and criticism of repressive governments are well articulated and thought-provoking. Although the struggle of artistic freedom vs. totalitarianism is nothing new, the film gets very intimate with its subject matter and guides us through the ordeal on a personal level.

The film often jumps around to different time periods instead of proceeding in a linear, beginning-to-end fashion. This may create a little confusion for some viewers, but the end result still gives us a clear idea of how the director wants us to perceive the artist.

My only complaint is that the film is a bit short, and there's a lot more about Ai's art exhibitions that I would have been more interested in learning about. But in all fairness, the ninety or so minutes that we're given must have been a monumental task for Klayman to put together.

Who would like this film: Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry is for you if you're an artist, one who really appreciates art, and/or someone interested in the impact of technology on free expression. It's also for those who have an interest in international issues, especially the way in which the internet is influencing change in modern China.

The film also acknowledges the inherent rebellious nature of artists. But instead of celebrating a superficial "F-You to the Man" attitude that any 16 year-old can spout, it tells the story of a guy with the courage to not only say "F-You to the Man," but the initiative to actually follow through on what he really believes in…for better or for worse.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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