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Ai Weiwei goes with the human flow

Artist’s breathtaking documentary, one of the most important films of 2017, follows the plight of people across the globe who have been forced from their homes

07 December, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Beautiful but a difficult watch, Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow

Directed by Ai Weiwei
Certificate 12a

STANDING in a cold, rain-sodden, muddy field, the man stares at the camera. He tries to speak, but his voice breaks as words stumble out. He is clutching in his hands a raft of identification cards.

Around him is not a graveyard as such – there are no gaudy monuments in memory to those beneath the soil. But the person in the shot is explaining that under the clods of earth next to him lie his wife and children.

This is a family who fled danger in Syria, only to perish as they sought safety elsewhere.

Artist Ai Weiwei has created a film that charts the story of human movement across the globe. This is about the current issues around people being forced from where they live to seek somewhere new: he finds those who have had to flee their homes as bombs rain down on the streets they know, as regimes seek to destroy, persecute. He finds the people who have had to pour their life savings into funding a journey from danger to an unknown place of – they hope – safety and security. He visits camps across the world where people are held in suspense, in limbo, not able to return to their place of birth because of various disasters – political, economic and natural – and, without preaching, creates a picture of the sheer scale of what this looks like today.

And it is breathtaking. We watch the images on the news but how many of us are truly aware of this global catastrophe of our time? Genuinely eye-opening, the film the artist has created is both educa­tional and enthralling. It is beautifully shot – drone footage of camps takes us from having an overview to zooming in on one person, allowing the viewer to understand the breadth of what is happening from Africa to the Middle East, in Central and North America and then to Asia.

Weiwei does not try to berate and shout, or offer simplistic answers to complex questions. He does allow those working on the ground to talk about what they are doing, and why, but most importantly he gives a voice to the voiceless.

He says his motive in turning to this issue centres on its universality. “They could be my children, could be my parents, could be my brothers,” he states.

“We may speak different languages and have different belief systems but I understand them. Like me, they are also afraid of the cold and don’t like standing in the rain or being hungry. Like me, they need a sense of security. I believe any crisis or hardship that happens to another human being should be as if it is happening to us.”

This is a moving piece of cinema, a tough one to watch, and one of the most important films of 2017.


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