“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” (playing in the U.S. Documentary competition) chronicles the career of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was arrested in 2011 for being a dissident, this after he entered the international stage for designing the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium and later calling the Beijing games a “fake smile” for the Party’s international presence. Director Alison Klayman has been following the story since 2008.
What’s it about? “Never Sorry” is the inside story of a dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs boundaries of art and politics.
Says director Alison Klayman: “The Ai Weiwei that shines through in ‘Never Sorry’ is a creative and principled artist, willing to make calculated risks to spread his message. He is an artist pushing his society to grapple with its shortcomings, but at the same time, he is an international art star, holding a Chinese passport and speaking his mind online and on his home soil. He is a charismatic figure that in many ways embodies the multitude of experiences and realities in China, how China has changed and how it has more room to grow.
“After graduating from Brown in 2006, I came to China with a friend from college on a trip that was meant to last five months. We stayed with her relatives in Shanghai, and spent weeks traveling in Yunnan, Tibet and Taiwan. I also began learning Mandarin Chinese with a tutor. Four and a half months later, I had cancelled my ticket home and moved to Beijing. I decided to try to hone my language skills in the workplace, and answered a slew of online job ads: bar-tending in a members’-only club for China’s nouveau-riche; assisting the lead actress on the set of a Jackie Chan/Jet Li film; writing about basketball for the official 2008 Olympic website; voicing cartoons; and making silicone dummies for a special effects studio.
“In 2008, I became an accredited journalist with Global Radio News, and went on to produce radio and television feature stories for PBS Frontline, NPR and others. That’s when I met Ai Weiwei and made a video for his New York Photographs exhibition in Beijing. As time went on it was clear that I had met a subject that was undeniably worth following for years…and that’s what I did.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to explore many of the themes ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’ touches on, especially the interplay between China and the world in terms of culture and ideas. I also have a project in development about freedom of expression and the Internet.”
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
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