A New Documentary Follows Ai Weiwei for a Year as He Travels to the Heart of the Refugee Crisis

The documentary ‘Ai Weiwei Drifting’ reveals the artist’s most intimate side.

Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei at the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek Macedonia border last March. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

The German broadcaster DW (Deutsche Welle) has released a new documentary titled Ai Weiwei Drifting, for which the journalists Eva Mehl and Bettina Kolb accompanied the Chinese artist and activist on his journeys for over a year.

The resulting film—which premiered in Berlin on June 13—is an intimate portrait of the artist, who settled in the German capital in the summer of 2015, when Chinese authorities returned his passport after four years.

The global crisis surrounding displacement, migration, and exile has become the focus of the artist’s recent works, and DW’s intimate portrait shows us Ai on the ground in Greece and Gaza, working on his refugee projects. (In fact, the artist himself has recently completed a full documentary on the crisis, titled Human Flow, which is slated to be released this summer.)

“Since 2014, more than 10,000 refugees have died in the Mediterranean. I document everything. I think records are needed for future generations,” the artist says in the DW documentary.

“There’s no words to describe [this crisis],” he continues. “I’m trying to see how civilization and humanity function, how they treat these people, how they share the very essential values and dignity of human beings.”

Although Ai Weiwei Drifting focuses on these projects, the film also gives a glimpse of Ai’s other professional endeavors, such as teaching as a guest professor at Berlin’s University of the Arts and attending openings of his exhibitions around the world.

In the documentary, the artist also opens up about the traumatic experience of his arrest and incarceration in 2011, and the subsequent four-year travel ban.

“This abduction was meticulously planned,” he says. “They put a black hood over my head. I didn’t know where they were taking me. Some secret place…. There were two soldiers watching over me all day. They never moved, never spoke. I had to sit there, I wasn’t allowed to move either. If I wanted to use the toilet or drink water, I was only allowed to when they let me.”

“I still have nightmares sometimes,” he says. “They will never go away.”

‘Ai Weiwei Drifting’ is available online here.

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