March 30, 2023

By Tom LaVenture
Asian American Press

Refugees at the Jordanian Syrian border in “Human Flow. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.)

Minneapolis (Oct. 29, 2017) — With the cinematic touch of an artist and the heart of a activist, director Ai Weiwei strips the international refugee crisis of all its rhetoric on cable TV news with a silent outrage that shames any excuse as to why victims of war, oppression and poverty are left literally dying in wait for relief.

Documenting the day-to-day survival of refugees “Human Flow” (145 minutes, Participant Media, Amazon Studios, AC Films — now playing at the Landmark-Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, the film opens with Ai Weiwei joining others in meeting late night refugees who had crossed the Aegean Sea in rafts to the shores of Greece, looking for safety from war in Europe. The following morning there are more refugees along with debris as evidence that some boats did not make it.

According to the film, as of 2016 there were nearly 66 million people currently displaced due to war, persecution or the consequences of climate change and poverty. Around 22 million people, over half of them children, are registered as refugees around the world in the greatest displacement since World War II.

The film spans the refugee journeys in 23 countries where Ai Weiwei wins the trust of people who are tired and scared with all the sincerity of someone who has stood in the face of persecution and risked everything for justice. He visits the camps where ever-changing policies keep the refugees future in doubt from day-to-day, while also visiting the bombed out cities that the same refugees left to show why they cannot return without risking life and liberty.

Not many films have used the drone camera as effectively as Ai Weiwei. Artistic aerial views provide stunning perspective of boats traversing the Aegean Sea, rows of tents in the desert camps of Jordan and the waves of people crossing the no-man’s land borders of southern Europe.

The cinematography is just enough of a beautiful distraction from the harsh realities of human story Ai Weiwei tells with accounts of many survivors. Some maintain hope while others who have lost everything have given up hope as the debate for their fate is decided outside of their control.

Filmmaker Ai Weiwei talks with a refugee woman who has lost her children and family at a camp near the Jordanian-Syrian border in “Human Flow”. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.)

Ai Weiwei does not interject his sentiments in direct statements. The interviews with the refugees speak for themselves and clearly stand against the rhetoric of hate and fear of refugees.

In his productions notes Ai Weiwei said that as an artist, he always believes in humanity and looks at this crisis as his crisis. If, as human beings, we don’t have that kind of trust in each other then the walls and division and misleading politicians will make “for a future in the shadows,” he said.

“I see those people coming down to the boats as my family,” he said. “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.”

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