This year's opening night film is also one of the best that Hot Docs has to offer in 2012. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" examines the powerful life of one of China's most outspoken exports, Ai Weiwei. His monumental exhibits have been shown in the world's foremost galleries and his public criticisms of his government make his very existence a breathing and challenging piece of art.
Ai Weiwei is a calm, quiet and often zen-like figure who spends every waking second being an activist, an artist and perhaps most importantly, a Chinese citizen. He has been called the most powerful artist on the planet. He is responsible for the iconic Bird's Nest Stadium used during the Beijing Olympic Games, and while recent exhibitions like Sunflower Seeds and So Sorry have yielded an overwhelmingly positive reaction artistically, it would be fair to say that his personal story adds drama to everything he presents. He states that his work is like a chess game, each exhibit a response to the actions of the world surrounding him.
The film brings us along for the last couple of years of his journey; often we're just tagging along as hand-held cameras follow him on his adventures. We meet his family, watch him work in his massive warehouse studio, witness his run-ins with police, and examine his popularity in cities like Munich, London and New York. Director Alison Claymon has much to be thanked for, but clearly her subject did a lot of the heavy lifting to make this documentary happen. His team of assistants helps him produce his art, film his every move and even protect him from the brute force of the Chinese authorities.
Ai Weiwei watched his tormented father's attempt at being a poet and artist in the 1960s and 1970s -- with horrifying results. Keen to discover the secrets of the west, Ai Weiwei spent his 20s in New York City, returning in the 1990s to tend to his ailing father. His time in the US gleaned a passion for contemporary art, and an unquenchable thirst for freedom. When posed with questions about his artistic statements meant to criticize or embarrass Chinese leaders, he states that, once experienced, "Freedom remains in your heart." An underground career in the early 2000s eventually spawned an artistic force on a worldwide scale.
Watching Ai Weiwei tweet his dismays over bad treatment of Chinese citizens, or bringing attention to earthquake victims that authorities would rather sweep under the rug becomes anxious and potent subject matter in this doc. Can his fame, fortune and public persona save him from a life under lock and key? Does his work as a Chinese ambassador to the art world trump his government's dislike of his radical ideals?
The story is yet to be resolved, but you can find out why "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" has already been the toast of Sundance, and will certainly be the toast of Hot Docs in 2012.
Thu, Apr 26, 6:30 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Thu, Apr 26, 9:30 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sat, Apr 28, 4:15 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Full schedule of Hot Docs screenings