Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

Ai Weiwei is one of the most controversial artists to come out of China in the past thirty years. His work includes a list of names of children who died in the Sichuan earthquake that was hidden by Chinese authorities and the world famous picture of him sticking one finger to the Beijing Olympics. He is well known for both his art and political views, both of which have got him into trouble with Chinese authorities and gained him worldwide recognition. He has been followed by the police, had surveillance cameras set up in his studio and had his blog shutdown by the authorities. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry follows him as he prepares for shows and becomes involved in political activism.

Ai Weiwei describes himself as a chess player, when his opponent makes a move he makes a move. His art is reactionary and this documentary provides a fascinating insight into what he reacts to and how he handles the reactions to his work from both fans and the Chinese authorities. In one piece of footage he approaches a plain clothes policeman and asks him if he’s being watched. In another, the police kick his hotel room door down and punch him in the face. Later he ends up in hospital having brain surgery. A large chunk of the film is given over to their fight against the Chengdu police after they punched him and it highlights just how the authorities don’t want to deal with him. The work he creates defies the government and many artists and activists similar to him have been jailed for doing what does. The refusal of the police to admit to punching him is just a tiny part of the resistance he deals with against his art and opinions.

The documentary looks at his work and activism that starts with his Sichuan earthquake and moves onto his Munich exhibition which included a message from a student killed in the earthquake spelt out using 9000 rucksacks. Through a series of interviews with everyone from fellow artists to members of his family and staff, it also shows his show at the Tate Modern in 2008 which used millions of porcelain sunflower seeds and his very public arrest in April 2011. His mother describes him as someone who speaks out for the average citizen because he has his fame and massive support to protect him. However, even he can’t escape the authorities who detained him for 81 days before “releasing” him with a ban on social media activity and leaving Beijing for a year.

Alison Klayman has done a fantastic job, making this one of the most compelling and fascinating documentaries of the year and definitely a necessary addition to DVD libraries. With footage and photographs from Ai Weiwei himself and detailed explanations of his work and methodology, this is a brilliant insight into how one of the most important artists of the time lives and works in a country that attempts to squash anything that goes against their beliefs.

Director: Alison Klayman
Writer: Alison Klayman
Stars: Ai Weiwei, Danqing Chen, Ying Gao
Runtime: 91 min
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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