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‘Human Flow:’ Ai Weiwei Tracks the Global Refugee Crisis

"What began as a small project to tell individual stories ultimately became a massive documentary for the first-time feature filmmaker."

“With more displaced people now than in the time period after World War II, the global refugee crisis is in the headlines nearly every day,” explains Ariston Anderson, discussing Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow.

“With few people comprehending the scale of the problem, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei went out to film an immersive portrait of the crisis. What began as a small project to tell individual stories ultimately became a massive documentary for the first-time feature filmmaker, filming across 23 countries with a crew numbering more than 200 people.

“‘In this film, we have a clear agenda to make a study of the very difficult complex situation and to have a better view about humanity, human rights, and about the chance for humans to survive as one,’ the director says. ‘Human rights always need to be defended everywhere, and by doing that we benefit everybody.'” To read the full interview, click here.

“Ai is hands-on from the very beginning of Human Flow, wading into the waters off the coast of Lesbos and pulling a refugee out of the ocean with one hand as he shoots footage on his iPhone with the other,” says David Ehrlich. “It would be easier to accuse Ai of grandstanding if he weren’t such a gregarious character; a jolly man who likes to mumble and is quick to laugh, Ai cuts a humble, welcoming figure.

“More than that, his presence serves a unifying purpose as the film argues that the world is only as big as it is small, a massive place that’s shrinking every day — self-serving or not, there’s a power to seeing the same man engage with refugee populations in places as disparate as Egypt and Mexico. And not just any man, but a refugee himself (albeit a rich one). Human Flow never references its director’s previous accomplishments, but watching someone of his stature interview a group of carefree girls in Gaza — watching the son of a man who was exiled by Mao Zedong interview the Princess of Jordan — reinforces the idea that the arbitrary borders of the old world need to be redrawn for the new one.” To read the full article, click here.

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“I became involved with the subject of refugees because I am conscious of how these people have been mistreated, neglected and displaced,” the director tell Nick Vivarelli. “I know what it is like to be viewed as an outcast. The current-day displacement of people is the largest since the end of World War II. It’s a global issue and one which tests the resolve of developed nations to uphold human rights. I am eager to understand how those values — which form the foundation of democracy and freedom — are protected and how they have been violated.

“To become involved — to take a personal journey to better understand the historical context, the current situation, and what is possible in the future — is the most natural act for an artist like me.” To read the full interview, click here.

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