Film Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
It seems appropriate that as the 2012 Olympics come to a close, the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry continues to find limited release in the states. If that comment doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably because you’re like me and had forgotten/never knew that Ai Weiwei was the artist who designed the Beijing National Stadium commonly referred to as the Bird’s Nest which figured so prominently into the 2008 Olympics.
Weiwei is a very respected figure in the art world, and unsurprisingly even more so in China amongst the populace who share his beliefs that the voice of the people should be heard; without fear of reprisal from a government that routinely detains, beats, and ‘disappears’ those who challenge the system. His art often speaks to creating a more open society, with greater levels of transparency and equality.
Now, as someone who very rarely uses the Twitter account they started on a lark years ago, I had no idea how prominent a figure Weiwei was in the world of social media. Of course, that wasn’t where he began to speak out against China’s intolerance for social unrest, but after they shut down his blog, Weiwei found that Twitter was a way around the national firewall and has since used it to great effect. This trend of using social media to effect change socially and politically isn’t quite a new thing but has been gaining more legitimacy in the last few years; one needs only look at recent uprisings in the Middle East and how Facebook helped organizers in their endeavors to see the results.
Sure, the documentary is 95% focused on Weiwei; how he became so prominent worldwide for his efforts and spotlighting the series of events that took place following the Beijing Olympics and the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake which would lead to his own detainment by the Chinese government. However, as well plotted out as all of those segments are, it’s the larger message regarding how social media has changed the paradigm of how we all communicate with one another that makes this documentary so fascinating to watch.
This isn’t a brand new insight but with the speed of technology and access to news increasing each and every day, the role of social media to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard is only now beginning to be taken seriously. As fewer and fewer corporations control the flow of information, it has become even more important for so-called average citizens to speak out when something isn’t being said, and to allow for more than the two or three major headlines it seems can be handled at any one time by the big outlets.
Taking all of that into perspective elevates the importance of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. It’s a fairly standard bio-pic, albeit about a rather fascinating individual who not only has great artistic talent but also shows great courage to rise up in a society that has so often only told its people to stay down. Adding the extra layers of technology’s role in an ever-shrinking global community puts the film over the top and makes it one of the best documentaries of 2012.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry hits theaters on August 10, 2012 and is rated R for some language.