Independent Lens sat down with filmmaker Alison Klayman to talk about the joys and challenges of filming China’s most famous artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei. Her film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, premieres on Independent Lens February 25 at 10 PM (check local listings).
Ai Weiwei is arguably the most internationally celebrated Chinese artist of the modern era. At heart, he is a troublemaker with a serious agenda: to challenge the oppression of the Chinese people by their government with rebellious and irreverent gestures. His activism has cost him his freedom repeatedly, but he never seems to lose his childlike approach to serious dissidence executed with a wink. But what was it like to film such a celebrated and controversial figure? Filmmaker Alison Klayman gives us insider access to the one and only Ai Weiwei.
Filmmaker Alison Klayman with Ai Weiwei
What impact do you hope this film will have?
I believe there are several layers of impact to the film. The first is that people get to know Ai Weiwei as a person, going behind the headlines and the iconography. As a documentary film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is able to provide a much more intimate understanding of Ai Weiwei’s character and motivations than a short news story can, and it hopefully means that audiences will follow his case as it continues to develop.
By watching the film people also get a window into many aspects of contemporary China they might not have seen before. I hope it shows China as a complex place, with lots of diversity of opinion and a rich community of artists, activists and young people who care about improving their country.
Most importantly, though, are the universal lessons contained in the film. It’s really a story about individual courage, about how creativity and finding your voice can lead to change, how social media is transforming our world, how rule of law and transparency and freedom of expression are important in any society.
What led you to make this film?
When I graduated from Brown University in 2006 I wanted to travel abroad to have adventures, learn new languages, and try to start a career as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. I started my journey by going on a five-month trip to China with a college classmate, and I unexpectedly ended up staying there for four years.
It wasn’t until 2008 that I first met Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. My first few weeks of filming were enough to convince me that he was a charismatic and fascinating character, and that I wanted to dig deeper into his story. I wanted to know more about who Ai Weiwei really was, what motivates his art and activism, and what would happen to him. I also thought that people around the world would learn something new about China by being introduced to him. Continue reading