At its core, documentary filmmaking is curiosity as art. Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is a fascinating glimpse into the life of the curious character that is Ai Weiwei. Delving into a life far removed from most and rises above the socio-political issues surrounding Weiwei to deliver a powerfully affecting documentary.
For anyone who is unaware of Ai Weiwei, I’ll give a little context. Ai Weiwei is a renowned Chinese artist and dissident, he was heavily involved in the construction of the Bird’s Nest Stadium of the 2008 Beijing Olympics & installed his Sunflower Seeds exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2010.
Following the Sichuan earthquake in December 2008, Weiwei supported an investigation into student casualties, which may or may not have been caused by poor building work by the Chinese Government. Following his involvement in this investigation, the Chinese authorities heavily monitored Weiwei’s life and what has since followed is something of a war of attrition involving not only Weiwei, but also his family and supporters.
Much of this is documented in Never Sorry and to great effect. It makes for highly involving viewing with a sharp focus on the cruelties inflicted by the Chinese government. Weiwei himself is an enigmatic character, driven by his quest for liberty, but at times emotionally withdrawn from those closest to him.
Klayman’s documentary does at times feel intrusive as members of his family try to warn him of what he is doing and he offhandly brushes their concerns aside. He is driven, but by what I am not sure and neither the documentary or Weiwei make it clear either.
Having already known of Ai Weiwei before watching this film (I covered his arrest roughly a year ago) and of the sensitive and ruthless nature of the Chinese authorities, I have to admitNever Sorry is, at times, rather superficial. I realise Weiwei is something of an unknown character and this documentary will probably inform many viewers not only of his struggles, but his existence all together. That said, I can’t help but feel this documentary is something of a missed opportunity, if only for the fact it rushed some topics.
Nevertheless, the greatest strength of Never Sorry is that whether or not you know who Weiwei is, you get to see this incredible display of courage from the man himself. It’s a human story. As informed as articles in the New Yorker and Guardian made me feel, nothing can quite compare to seeing Weiwei having to wrestle a camera off a policeman. Perhaps this is sensationalism over substance, I already knew of Weiwei’s struggles but this time my emotional response was far stronger.
To its credit, Never Sorry cuts through the intellectualism that surrounds Weiwei’s struggle and delivers a harrowing tale of striving for freedom of speech against what is widely considered the major restriction against liberty in the contemporary world.