Monday, July 23, 2012

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY/Alison Klayman offers art as protest, provocation -- and art

You can't really miss Ai Weiwei: The artist, along with his work, his blog (access to which China seems to be currently blocking) and his insistent "dissidency," so far as his homeland of China is concerned, is at this point something like legendary. And yet how much do we really know about the guy? TrustMovies certainly didn't know a lot, outside of a few obvious facts, and so Alison Klayman's new documentary, AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, was eye-opening, mind-expanding and especially anger-producing. (So much about modern China is, no? For that matter, so is much about the USA. For real anger-production, however, don't miss the upcoming doc You've Been Trumped. More about that one next month....)

To get some kind of grip on her subject. Ms Klayman, shown at right, goes all over the place (as does Mr. Ai, who is quite the world traveler). While she runs the risk of flailing a bit, she mostly avoids this by concentrating on, via verbiage and camerawork, what is most important to the artist: the use of his art for social good and the freedom of the people. Nearly all (perhaps every one) of the artwork exists -- in addition to the beauty of its conception and execution -- to send a message. This does not, of course, preclude the filmmaker's showing us an awful lot of shots of the artist's cat, below, who can actually open doors (but never closes them afterward). I suspect Ms Klayman is a cat person.

As we listen to Ai Weiwei during the course of this film, it becomes clear that he is both an artist and a critic rolled into one who possesses a keen sense of humor. As do his workmen, one of whom tells us, regarding those employed to put together the artist's work: "We're just hired assassins."

For a first-time filmmaker, Ms Klayman managed to gain surprising access to the artist (above and below) and his family. (How this family plays out is among the surprises of the movie.) Prior to making the film, she worked as a journalist in Beijing, and it is clear from the film itself that her journalism still serves her well. While providing the facts, such as they are, she allows us to spend time with the artist, see his art in various stages (design, construction and completion) and hear his musings, often inspired and always intelligent, on art and life.

From his Names Project for the victims of the Chinese earthquake -- especially the schoolchildren who lost their lives in the shoddy, sub-standard construction provided by the Chinese government --  to the Sunflower Seeds installation (above) that opened (and then just as quickly closed) at London's Tate Modern to the razing of his studio by the Chinese government; from his beating at the hands of police officers to his imprisonment and eventual release, Klayman packs in a lot of events and information. (The Iran-Contra hearings even figure into all this!)

We meet everyone from the artist's mom and younger brother to his wife and the mother of his only child (and no, these last two are not the same person), and various Chinese filmmakers and performance artists. Together, these people offer a wider perspective on our guy, a fellow who has taken the term artist/activist to new heights. "If you don't act," he tells us at one point, "the danger only becomes stronger."

From Sundance Selects, the 91-minute documentary -- after making numerous international festival appearances -- opens this Friday, July 27, in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and Bethesda, MD. A further nationwide limited release will begin in August.

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