Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry": story of major Chinese artist and dissident

The documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” starts with a touching scene presenting his cats around the artist’s Beijing studio “factory”.  One of the felines jumps up and operates a handle to open a door to get his food.  Ai says that this is remarkable.  But when I lived in my first garden apartment in Dallas in 1979, I was “adopted” by a male cat that knew how doors worked, recognized my car sound, and would hide things in my apartment as a game.  And today, neighborhood cats (and foxes) know which houses have open outdoor water faucets, and which yards have areas that pond during heavy rain.

Weiwei actually lived and worked in New York for about ten years, but went back to Beijing in 1993, a few years after the Tieneman Square massacre (1989). He would build his reputation, hiring artisans to work out his ideas, and would be a major player in designing the Birds’ Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

The film (directed by Alison Klayman, who filmed him working for several years) seems more concerned with the arc of the artist’s life (the way a documentary about Andy Warhol might be), than just the political message about free speech. But that becomes important, after Weiwei tries to expose shoddy construction practices after a major earthquake in Sichuan.  The police would invade his home and beat him. Later, he would be allowed to build a studio in Shanghai, and then see it torn down, an event that he would satirize with a sham public celebration.  He would “disappear” for 80 days in 2011, and emerge with a $2.4 million “tax fine”, for which volunteers have raised about $1 million.

The film gives some detail on the police action against blogger Liu Xiaobo.  A female official says, “we didn’t punish him for his thoughts. It was only a problem when he published them online on the Internet.”  Xiaobo was arrested for "inciting" rebellion against the state. It's a curious concept.  I guess if I lived in China they would arrest me, too.  The New York Times has a history of Xiaobo here.  

Weiwei would remain active most of the time on Twitter.

Sundance Selects is distributing the film. I saw it at Landmark E Street Sunday afternoon in front of a fair crowd. The director had been present for Q&A Friday and Saturday nights. The official site is here

Note: the spelling of the first name is "Ai" but the "i" often displays as "l".  

Viso has a YouTube trailer:

This film could be compared to Tribeca’s “High Tech, Low Life” about Chinese blogger “Zola”, reviewed here April 26, 2012. 

For "today's short film", please see my "International Issues" blog July 28 for a discussion of the 25-minute "Journeyman" film "One Child Policy". 

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