Right place, right time: Filmmaker Alison Klayman was working as a journalist in China when the outspoken artist Ai Weiwei was at his creative peak. He’d just been commissioned to consult on the Beijing Olympics stadium (a project he would later denounce). At the same moment, Ai was also establishing himself as an Internet celebrity with a popular, rabble-rousing blog that frequently took the government of his homeland to task—a natural step for a man who once snapped a series of photos of himself flipping off national landmarks from Tiananmen Square to the White House.
Ai is a great subject for a documentary, and his charismatic certitude (watch as he unflinchingly confronts a policeman who beat him or uses Twitter as a 24/7 method of protest) helps to offset Klayman’s unfortunate inexperience behind the camera. All the expected nonfiction tropes—talking heads; biographical flashbacks; fly-on-the-wall set pieces—are utilized and cut together in jumbled start-stop fashion: a bit of Ai’s childhood here, some scenes from his Tate Modern exhibition there. It often feels like we’re watching a bunch of YouTube clips hastily pasted together with little thought to overall form and function. None of that takes away from the subject himself, however, and his dogged, infectious belief in the power of dissent. His spiritedness makes the darker places his story goes all the more affectingly tragic.
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