Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry [Blu-ray]
On April 3rd of 2011, the world famous Chinese artist and political "hooligan" Ai Weiwei disappeared following a "routine" interrogation. It had been the fate of so many protesters before him (including his own father) to eventually answer to the State. An answer that often left one imprisoned or dead. For 81 days the friends, family and millions of followers of Weiwei on Twitter were left in the dark as to his condition.
Weiwei became world famous (or at least well known to the Western world) during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He had been commissioned by the Chinese government to create the centerpiece of the Olympic stadium, the "Bird's Nest" which easily dominated the associated imagery. During this process, Weiwei began to become much more aware of the many lies told by the Chinese government, particularly regarding the Sichuan earthquake, a natural disaster that resulted in the death of hundreds of young children through human incompetence and greed.
After the disaster, the debris of many Chinese elementary schools revealed their cheap and shoddy construction. Weiwei began a campaign to list the number and names of the dead children, since the Chinese flat out refused to acknowledge their existence. The Chinese government retaliated by putting surveillance cameras all over his home studio, having him followed day and night and eventually physically assaulting him. Weiwei retaliated by posting day and night on Twitter.
Weiwei describes the Chinese government as basically being a "bunch of hooligans" with a very immature, childish sense of right and wrong and one-upmanship. So how does one fight a hooligan? By being a hooligan himself. His famous photograph of Tiananmen Square depicts his middle finger blurred in the foreground--a finger pointed right at the heart of the Chinese government as an open declaration of civil disobedience.
Filmmaker Alison Klayman had the raw material for an intense political drama or thriller fueled by moral outrage, but just not the lead character for one. Ai Weiwei is such a laid back, calm and yet mischievous spirit that the film takes on a whole different, almost joyous tone. The film she ended up with is one of the most warm and inspiring documentaries I have ever seen.
Klayman was given what seems to be total, unrestricted access to Weiwei's entire life. His friends, family, colleagues all help to paint a complex portrait of a man who seems at heart to actually be quite simple. Weiwei appears to be a humble man with a remarkable sense of sincerity and a keen eye for how art can be both beautiful and meaningfully defiant at the same time. For Weiwei, there is only truth. The greatest injustice comes from those who try to hide it. The film ends with the words, "Never Retreat, Re-Tweet".
For a documentary, one always has to make excuses for the visuals and sound quality. Most are shot on the run, without preparation, and the point is to get something audiences can see and hear on record. From a tech standpoint, documentaries are usually graded on a curve.
That said, much care has been taken with Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry to present the best-looking image and sound as possible. This is a fine looking disc, with very good audio to boot. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix is fantastic. The voices are never lost in the mix and audio picked up through many different mics and in many different interior and exterior locations are all well-mixed to sound as clear as possible. The images are all well lit with nice dark blacks amid the detail. We can even see a moment in the film when the light is being fussed with for an interview and Weiwei nodding in agreement that the image looks much better. For a film about a visual artist this level of concern seems appropriate.
Along with the disc's technical qualities we get an excellent filmmaker's commentary from director Alison Klayman, editor Jennifer Fineran and co-producer Colin Jones. These people equal Weiwei's passion and it's their intense love for the man that comes through most. They wanted people to know this amazing artist and the commentary focuses on how much work it took in the editing room to get that across in the clearest manner.
Finally, we get some deleted scenes which really present variations on or more of the same things we saw in the movie. All are entertaining on their own but really add nothing to the feature film. The same thing happens with the extra interviews. We get more information but not new information. The trailer is also included.
Otherwise, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is a fantastic film and the Blu-ray release equals it.
Reviewed By: Brian Holcomb