Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry | Berlin Film Festival 2012
This documentary feature debut by Alison Klayman comes to Berlinale Special program straight from Sundance, where it won Special Jury Prize only a month ago, and is an overview of the life, art and political activism of the most prominent contemporary artist in China – Ai Weiwei.
Filmed mostly in his studio in Beijing, constantly under surveillance by Chinese authorities, Never Sorry provides an informative examination of how Weiwei’s art challenges political oppression in the People’s Republic of China, where there is no information transparency nor government responsibility to citizens, and people can be seriously threatened if they speak their mind.
Believing that the 2008 Olympics were being staged for party propaganda, Ai Weiwei boycotted the event. When the authorities tried to cover up the earthquake in the Sichuan province, he began researching the names of more than 5,000 children who lost their lives in the rubble of poorly built schools. After publicizing this list, Weiwei’s blog was shut down, but the artist refused to give up and began to use Twitter as a means for unifying like-minded people by organizing silent political protests disguised as harmless gatherings.
Twitter has become somewhat of an obsession for Ai, who has never really had a chance to experience the power of free speech. “If it’s not publicized – it never happened”, states the avant-garde artist, who also creates controversy about being harassed by a police officer to show Chinese authority that it cannot get away with such acts.
Alongside his campaigning, Ai Weiwei still manages to maintain a successful international career, preparing for large-scale installations and exhibitions, one of which – ‘Sunflower Seeds’ – visited Tate Modern in November 2010. Despite receiving such widespread recognition, support and financial success, Ai does not regard his art as anything serious or difficult. He thinks of himself as more of a chess player (“my opponent makes a move, and then I make the next one”), and often leaves it to his numerous helpers to execute his conceptual ideas. A large part of his art consists of the very documentation of his political activism. He continuously provokes the Chinese government, which in turn keeps fighting back in the most totalitarian ways and therefore showing how vulnerable it is to criticism. (Which is why there never was any – until Ai came along.)
This documentary, filmed over two years and distilled from over 100 hours of footage, was finished just in time – after being released on bail after three months’ detention on 22 June 2011, Ai refused to give any more interviews to the press. No one knows what happened to him during this period, or what kind of threats is he now faced with.
Has the spiritual leader of Chinese liberals finally given up on his revolutionary cause? Or is he just taking his time to think of the best next move? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, as one of his tweets exclaims: “Never retreat! Retweet!”
Watch the trailer of Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry here