Chinese artist Ai Weiwei first caught wide international attention when he was appointed the artistic design consultant for the 2008 Olympics’ Bird Nest stadium in Beijing.
Recently, he was named most powerful contemporary artist by ArtReview magazine and runner-up in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011. However, his outspoken social activism on democracy and human rights quickly put him at odds with the Chinese Communist authorities.
Coming off winning a Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry opened Toronto’s Hot Docs festival to sold-out houses and long rush lines.
First-time director Alison Klayman, working as an American freelance journalist in China, was first introduced to Ai Weiwei while working on a video documenting an exhibition of his early photographs.
She started filming the preparations for two major surveys of his work at the Tate Modern in London and Haus der Kunst in Munich, but found herself at the right place at the right time as Weiwei’s creative artwork fuelled increasing interest and scrutiny in the political public figure.
Things gained momentum when the artist turned his attention towards uncovering the Chinese government’s mismanagement of the faulty “tofu construction” school buildings that resulted in over 5300 child deaths in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Security cameras appeared at his home studio driveway in a day and his comings and goings were being closely monitored.
With unprecedented access, Alison sensitively captures intimate moments of a mother worrying for the safety of her son, celebratory roadside meals monitored by police to the increasingly harrowing physical clashes with authorizes that ultimately leads to a three-month detainment in 2010.
In light of recent global news coverage on fellow activist Chen Guancheng’s escape, this timely film is a not only an engaging essential portrait of a key contemporary figure but also a look behind the curtain of China since its Olympic show full of promise and growth.
“The reason I wanted to make a film about Ai Weiwei was because I wanted to make a movie about a creative and principled artist, willing to make calculated risks to push society to grapple with its own shortcomings,” says director Alison Klayman. “He is a charismatic figure who in his personal dynamism embodies the multitude of experiences and realities in China, a sign of how China has changed and how there is more change to come.
“Which is why a lot went through my mind last April when, after over two years of filming and several months into the edit, Weiwei disappeared into police custody without any formal charges or indication when he would be released.
“Ai’s 81-day detention amplified his story symbolically and in the press. His release made news around the world, and people who may never have consciously heard his name suddenly became familiar with his face and his cause. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry brings the man and his history into the focus.
Never Sorry screens this Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre in Courtenay.
Directed by Alison Klayman, Documentary, Rated R, Runtime: 1 hr. 31 min, Country: USA, Language: English/Mandarin (English subtitles)
Film tickets are available at the CVAG gift shop at 580 Duncan Ave. in , Downtown Courtenay and Videos N More, 264 Anderton Road, Comox. If the film does not sell out, tickets will also be available in the Rialto Theatre lobby before the film.
All films in the series are on Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Rialto and are fundraisers for the Comox Valley Art Gallery. For updates and more information on the films, visit www.comoxvalleyartgallery.com or call 250-338-6211.
— Comox Valley Art Gallery