Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’ review

★★★★☆

Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) is, like all great documentaries, far wider in scope than merely its subject. It’s a fascinating exploration of the Chinese artist and influential tweeter’s ongoing activism, and raises important and relevant questions about an artist’s responsibility in political life and the ever-changing roles that social media may play in this. With internet and press censorship running rife in communist China, Weiwei took to Twitter for his activism once his popular and fiercely critical blog was censored by the government. Throughout Klayman’s film, we see Weiwei document absolutely everything. The effect is hilarious, and every bit a piece of performance art.

Never Sorry begins with Weiwei’s work on the Bird’s Nest before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and finishes in 2011 after the artist goes missing for 81 days and causes international outrage. Thankfully, he is safely returned but enters into a period of silence, failing to engage in interviews or tweets, following the Chinese government’s largest crackdown on dissenters and activists in over a decade. Klayman finds the perfect balance between examining Weiwei’s important political activism and his personal life.

We witness a loving but complex relationship between the artist and his mother, and we’re also introduced to his child from a family friend (Weiwei is married), a situation which he describes as ‘not ideal’. Weiwei’s relationship with his son as a whole is beautifully explored. However, a closer look at his years in the always-interesting down-town New York art scene of the 1980s wouldn’t have gone amiss. The danger with such fascinating subject matter is how to cram it all in without losing a sense of pacing, yet Klayman consistently manages to keep the content both vital and measured. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was given added precedence at its Sheffield Doc/Fest appearance due to the fact that a ten-strong Chinese federation of TV execs dropped out of a Q&A session after their request for the film to be dropped was denied by the festival’s programmers.

Sophia Satchell Baeza

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