|Ai Weiwei (photo courtesy of Hubert Virgilla)|
Before the film Meryl Streep made a surprise appearance and introduced the film and Ai Weiwei. She spoke glowingly of the film before calling the director up to say a few words. His words were brief before we were plunged into darkness and the film began.
HUMAN FLOW is a record of Weiwei's year long journey around the globe looking at te refugee crisis in a dozen or so countries. From Iraq to Myanmar to Africa to Europe to the United States. Weiwei is on the ground and forcing us to see what is happening on a very human level. It is a film that overwhelms the senses as your head and heart and emotions are fully engaged for 140 minutes in ways few films will ever engage you.
The film is not a documentary in the conventional sense, but a long and loud emotional scream set loose upon a cinema screen. It is filmmaking at it's most visceral. Because Weiwei never lets us forget that the images are people, real people, the weight of the images and the sheer scale of the mass migration becomes crushing- it is too much at times and by the time the camera pulls back to reveal thousands upon thousands of life preservers on a Greek beach we are mentally and emotionally spent.
The power of the film is in the fact that Weiwei is clearly there in these places. He is often a participant not a just an observer. He helps to pull people from the ocean, he dances with the refugees and delights their children. He also makes the choice to reinforce the the reality of the situation by holding shot longer tan we have gotten in other films and by using drones to show the massive scale of the "flow". There is simply no way to ever think this could ever be made up or staged.
Personally by the time the film arrived at Calais and the Jungle camp I was past the breaking point and for a little bit I disengaged from the film. It was too much and too staggering, the simple and non-sensational (but incredibly beautiful) images had taken their toll.
I don't know what to say but the film is a masterpiece that is going to haunt me for a long while. It is a film that will rattle you and make you think (I will need some time to think about it and it's implications, hence the lack of discussion and only my gut reaction). It should, if at all possible, be seen on a big screen where the images will have the maximum impact because you can not look away or get distracted.
After the film Ai Weiwei returned to do a brief Q&A. He spoke of how he came to make the film and what he was trying to do. (The full Q&A can be seen below.)
Do yourself a favor and when HUMAN FLOW plays near you go see it and change how you see the world.
Thank you to Hubert Vigilla for the photograph at the top of the piece.