Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on refugee film coming to Norwich

PUBLISHED: 14:04 01 December 2017

Artist Ai Weiwei film Human Flow is showing in Norwich. Photo: Amazon Studios

Artist Ai Weiwei film Human Flow is showing in Norwich. Photo: Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios

Renowned Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s new documentary Human Flow, which see him address the global refugee crisis, is being shown in Norwich with a live discussion with the artist.

Artist Ai Weiwei film Human Flow is showing in Norwich. Photo: Amazon StudiosArtist Ai Weiwei film Human Flow is showing in Norwich. Photo: Amazon Studios

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei will participate in live discussion being broadcast to cinemas in Norfolk following a screening of his ground-breaking documentary on the global refugee crisis.

The artist’s highly acclaimed documentary film, Human Flow, which chronicles the impact of human migration, gets its UK premiere on December 4.

A discussion with Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow and other special guests will then be broadcast live from Milton Court Concert Hall in London to over 200 cinemas, including in Norwich.

According to the United Nations over 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war in the greatest human displacement since the Second World War. Among them nearly 22.5 million are refugees.

Artist Ai Weiwei in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon StudiosArtist Ai Weiwei in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon Studios

Captured over the course of an eventful year in 23 countries, the film follows a chain of human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Turkey.

From teeming refugee camps to perilous ocean crossings to barbed-wire borders, it follows a series of subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice, as well as the haunting lure of lives left behind for the unknown potential of the future.

The artist said his personal experience, his own father was exiled as an anti-Communist with his family sent to a remote area, had led him to tackle the subject of refugees.

“My whole youth I grew up seeing the worst kinds of treatment of a human being, discrimination and hardship,” he explains. “Second, because I’ve come to live in Europe, I was eager to understand what is really happening with the refugee situation here. So I started going to Lesbos to see the island where the refugees were arriving.

Refugees come shore in Lesvos, Greece, in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon StudiosRefugees come shore in Lesvos, Greece, in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon Studios

“It was a very personal experience to see them all coming from the boats — children, women and elderly people. I could see in their faces an expression of uncertainty. They were scared and had no idea what they might find in this new land. That, even more, made me want to know more about who these people are, and why they have risked their lives coming to a place they don’t understand and where nobody understands them. I had so many questions.”

Curiosity led him to set up a research team to study the history of the refugees and their current condition.

“Besides the Syria War, refugees have been created by the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the Israel-Palestinian conflicts, several African conflicts, the persecution of minority groups in Myanmar and violence in central America,” he said.

“I wanted to visit all the locations around the world where refugees are arriving — first for my own understanding but also at the same time to record on film all that we found. This was really a very big learning experience, learning about human history, geopolitics as well as about environmental and social change.”

Scene in Human Flow from Kenya. Photo: Amazon StudiosScene in Human Flow from Kenya. Photo: Amazon Studios

Human Flow joins other expressions about the refugee crisis in Ai’s work, including the installation “Law of the Journey,” featuring a 200-foot inflatable boat carrying 258 refugee figures; wrapping Berlin’s Konzerthaus in over 3,000 orange life vests recovered from Lesbos; and recreating the image of Syrian child Aylan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey, with his own body.

His installation “Laundromat” saw him fill a New York gallery with the discarded clothing and personal mementoes left by refugees in an informal camp in Idomeni, Greece; while a 230-foot-long inflatable boat filled with 258 faceless refugees is in Prague.

But for Human Flow he turned to documentary filmmaking, even though he is aware of the forms limitations.

“People often say documentary is about reality,” he said. “The documentary is related to what we see and experience in real life but it is not exactly reality because it compresses time.

Refugees walking near Idomeni Camp, Greece in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon StudiosRefugees walking near Idomeni Camp, Greece in Human Flow. Photo: Amazon Studios

“So when you are watching Human Flow, you are only spending a little over two hours — but what you do not feel is the way the experiences of refugees become unbearable because of the length of time. So a film can never fully tell that truth and that truth is unbearable.”

• The live premiere of Human Flow, with Ai Wei Wei in conversation with Jon Snow and special guests, is being broadcast live to cinemas on December 4 (7pm). It can be seen at Norwich Odeon, Norwich Cinema City and Abbeygate Cinema, Bury St Edmunds.

• For more detail visit

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