Director Ai Weiwei’s magnum opus, HUMAN FLOW, could be considered epic refugee tourism, two and a half hour documentary recording the current immense migration from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East due to war, famine and climate change.
The very word “refugee” can distance, can lull us into forgetting this major story of our times is not about statistics or abstract masses but about flesh and blood individuals, who have hopes and dreams no different from our own.
HUMAN FLOW conjures lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: There is a tide in the affairs of humanity, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
HUMAN FLOW is indeed about a great diaspora bound in shallows and miseries, but it is also about us, taking the current or losing our venture as human and humanitarian.
Beijing born Berlin based Ai Weiwei is the current Einstein Visiting Professor at the Berlin University of the Arts and the recipient of the 2015 Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International and the 2012 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation.
Says Ai: “As an artist, I always believe in humanity and I see this crisis as my crisis. I see those people coming down to the boats as my family. They could be my children, could be my parents, could be my brothers. I don’t see myself as any different from them. We may speak totally different languages and have totally different belief systems but I understand them. Like me, they are also afraid of the cold and don’t like standing in the rain or being hungry.
“Like me, they need a sense of security. As a human being, I believe any crisis or hardship that happens to another human being should be as if it is happening to us. If we don’t have that kind of trust in each other, we are deeply in trouble. Then we will experience walls and division and misleading by politicians that will make for a future in the shadows.”
HUMAN FLOW moves across countless countries and creates an immersion that invites the most personal exploration, one that allows viewers to consider what it’s like to live life at its most vulnerable—and to ponder what we owe to one another.
Weiwei inserts himself into the picture on a number of occasions but not in the confrontational mad as hell way that Michael Moore does in his documentaries.
HUMAN FLOW is overwhelming in its scope, as overwhelming as its topic. The deluge of human traffic is catastrophic, cataclysmic and cannot be cured by political policy resembling King Canute.
Insurmountable as the odds may seem, HUMAN FLOW launches an undaunted charge into a tsunami of hopelessness with a life boat buoyant with empathy.