Film Review: Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry

Never Retreat, Retweet

Technology has always had beneficial and negative effects on the evolution of man. A dreamer comes up with an idea, the dream drifts from ethereal to form. From before the marking of the first papyrus to the Gutenberg press, to present day Twitter.

As soon as a single individuals idea or view could be easily, and more importantly repeatedly shared with increasing numbers, said individuals idea could germinate (over time) wonderful, powerful movements, and potentially bring down governments. The powers that be in the People’s Republic of China know this all too well. And they are not too happy about it.

Ali Weiwei

One of the current thorns in the side of the People’s Republic is contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Considering the size of the ideological Great Wall of China, it is stunning in itself that he should be allowed to be such a well known global artist (in 2010 he filled the Tate Modern with 100 million hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds).

Particularly when some of his best known works deal with overtly political subjects such as the death of thousands of school children in the December 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The government tried to manage a media black out to mask the futile deaths of so many due to the dreadful ‘tofu’ construction that permeated the entire area, where cheap construction took priority over lives.

This desire to suppress the deaths of many was a major catalyst in Weiwei effectively going head to head with the state government. Believing that if you ‘Don’t act, the danger becomes stronger’. Thankfully for the greater part of Weiwei’s more recent journeys, he has had director Alison Klayman documenting his days. Add to that the fact that Weiwei is a prolific tweeter, blogger (subsequently shut down by the government), and effectively a journalist videoing everything, there is a stunning amount of content at hand to sift through.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is Klayman’s first documentary, not that you would recognise this, she does a great job threading together all the various strings of influence in Weiwei’s life. From his persecuted political fathers life, experiences with the increasingly surveillant authorities (Weiwei was attacked by a police officer which ended with him having to have brain surgery) to the birth of his son outside his marriage. There is no shortage of human experience.

Ai Weiwei Documentary

That experience is something that really stands out. No matter the scale of his works around the world, even the creation of the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. You can’t help thinking that his finest work is actually himself. Every stroke of creativity and life moments, rapidly returning home to add yet another rich layer of texture.

This richness is built up not only with artistic creative techniques and dreams. But also information. Again, almost like a journalist on a quest for the ultimate story, he himself becomes the story. Yet despite the grandeur of some of his work, the core of human experience is immediately apparent in everything he does.

Tender scenes where Weiwei is talking with his mum, who’s frightened by the potential consequences of his political actions, and playing with his son, make it all too clear this is a great dreamer, but like us, an ordinary man. But it’s these dreams that are the sketches for our futures.

seven out of 10There are many many stunning moments in this documentary. It would be unkind to pick them out individually here. The only downside being that Ai Weiwei himself is indeed work in progress, a mere sketch of what is to come. So when the documentary finishes, the story is far from over. The authorities have recently come down very strongly on Weiwei. Disappearing for 81 days at their behest as they held an ‘investigation’ into his tax affairs. Upon his return he is clearly affected, down, but not out.

It left me thinking that his finest/greatest work is yet to come.

Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry is out now.