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Documentary Profiles Ai Weiwei's Political Activism

  • Penelope Poulou

A documentary about the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei is being released across the United States, just months after the dissident's year-long probation in China was lifted. The film, by first-time director Alison Klayman, presents the artist as a creative force and a digital crusader, in addition to being a fighter for human rights.

For years Ai Weiwei lived abroad where he created art installations. But for more than a year, he hasn't been allowed to leave China.

Now, Alison Klayman's film, Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, shows the artist as a proponent of freedom who is digitally connected to the world.

The film shows how Ai defied the government by researching the deaths of several thousand schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and then listing their names. The government had refused to name them.

"He put a call on his blog to do an investigation," recalled director Alison Klayman. "He called it citizen's investigation to go out to all the areas, collect the names, go to the parents, go to the schools, and he ended up gathering over 5000 names of children who died."

He also started an investigation into the shoddy construction of schools that caved in while students were inside.

Klayman says Ai Weiwei's activism is an integral part of his art.

"I think no matter what he does, he self-identifies as an independent artist and in the end it's all motivated by this same desire to express himself, to communicate," she said.

Ai was arrested on April 3, 2011 and detained for three months. Although his bail restrictions were lifted in June, he still has not been allowed to leave China.

Despite that, he continues to use social media to bring rights issues to light. Klayman says Ai's activism has been contagious.

"You see all the people who are influenced by him and are just as active as him online and they may be lawyers and they may be housewives and they've never gone abroad," said Klayman. "You don't have to be exposed to the West or to another culture to be drawn to these issues of the rule of law and transparency and freedom of expression."

Klayman called her documentary Ai Weiwei Never Sorry as a take on the artist's installation "So Sorry." Ai used that name to mock the Chinese government's apologies after the earthquake.

"Obviously 'Never Sorry' seems a lot more to be the attitude that Weiwei stands for, that he unapologetically and steadfastly will be promoting no matter what," said Klayman.

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