Film Review: Human Flow

by Ai WeiweiAC FILMS
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri
Human Flow film poster

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s immensely ambitious new documentary explores the world’s refugee problem by traveling to various hot spots and displaced person camps—from the shores of Greece, to Eastern Turkey, to Myanmar, to Palestine, and beyond. Not surprisingly, the director has an incredible eye, and he finds images of both resplendent beauty and uncommon urgency. True to its title, the film effectively captures the scale of humanity involved in this phenomenon—the masses of people moving between borders in search of security.

But Ai Weiwei isn’t just a presence behind the camera; he’s in front of it, as well, often working directly with refugee organizations and volunteers to help bring individuals to safety. He also walks among the camps and engages with the people in them. Sometimes it’s in the form of basic interviews. Often, it’s in the form of everyday interactions: He gets a haircut, he plays with the kids, he dances, he jokes around. By doing so—by interacting with these people as people—he helps reassert the humanity of his subjects. This runs counter to our all-too-common tendency to see them as mere statistics or as unfortunate victims, distant figures to whom we can never relate. By making it clear that those who find themselves in these situations are all ordinary people just like us, Ai Weiwei brings home the sheer, unthinkable monstrousness of their predicament.

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