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Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Released 10 August 2012
Director Alison Klayman

Ai Weiwei, Chen Danqing, Gu Changwei, Gao Ying
Writer(s) Alison Klayman

Alison Klayman, Adam Schlesinger
Origin United Kingdom
Running Time 91 minutes
Genre Documentary
Rating 15A

Talkin bout a revolution.

Even if you don’t know Chinese artist Ai Weiwei by name, chances are you will have heard of his work. Ai was one of the designers of the monumental Bird’s Nest stadium that held the eyes of the world during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Closer to home, he was also responsible for covering the floor of the turbine hall of the Tate Modern in London with millions of hand painted porcelain sunflower seeds. This documentary, made up of footage captured by American journalist Alison Klayman between 2009 and 2011 is not however a portrait of the artist but rather a portrait of the activist.

Although Klayman has unprecedented access to the working life of the Ai studio, his artwork actually receives very little attention. This is a shame. The occasional glimpse into Ai’s production line methods give a tantalising peek at the rarely seen day to day business of conceptual art (one sculptor aptly describes his role in the studio as that of a hired assassin). This means that Never Sorry could never be described as a fully rounded portrait of Ai but one cannot blame Klayman for concentrating on the more dramatic events of his life as he prepares for two exhibitions and finds himself increasingly hounded by the staggeringly oppressive Chinese government.

It is in documenting these events that Klayman’s film really takes off. We see Ai struggling against both serious and trivial invasions of privacy, from the CCTV cameras that monitor his activities to a physical assault meted out to him by police officers. It is startling to follow these events up close, when even a simple meal with friends can be seen as an act of rebellion against the Chinese authorities. Klayman focuses on Ai’s enthusiasm for new technologies, his use of Twitter given new significance in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions. The fact that Ai was disappeared by the Chinese government during the film’s post-production was fortuitous for the film, if not for the man himself, giving Klayman’s footage a dramatic conclusion.

Though it keeps its subject at an awed arm’s length, Never Sorry is a skilfully put together documentary about a courageous and interesting man. It is easy to understand why his followers have given him the affectionate moniker “Teacher Ai”.

- Linda O’Brien