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Film premiere of "Ai Weiwei Drifting"

Martin Rennert, Präsident der Universität der Künste Berlin, die Autorinnen des Films, Bettina Kolb und Eva Mehl sowie Ai Weiwei im Gespräch mit DW-Moderatorin Michaela Küfner Foto: Sebastian Gabsch

The DW documentary "Ai Weiwei Drifting" initially aimed to showcase Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's work at Berlin's University of the Arts, but it ended up focusing on much more. It shows China's most famous artist in the western world as a filmmaker, architect, concept artist and sculptor, but also as a father.

In light of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe, Weiwei has been working on his own documentary. Human Flow, which is currently in post-production, involved filming in 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Palestine, and Mexico. The film shows the tragedy of people fleeing their homes, thousands of whom have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

DW authors and directors Eva Mehl and Bettina Kolb accompanied him for 15 months. The nearly one-hour documentary, which was produced in cooperation with Deutsche Welle and the Einstein Foundation and premiered in Berlin, focuses on Weiwei's artistic approach to the refugee crisis. The documentary shows the artist, who was born in Beijing in 1957, interviewing, filming and photographing refugees in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border in December 2015. At times, the viewer is left with an oppressive feeling as Weiwei uses his cell phone to photograph the refugees trudging through the mud in plastic slippers in their makeshift tents, or as he searches for the right camera angle to interview those who have just been stranded.

Does art have no borders? 
This question has accompanied the artist throughout his career. His fans see him as a provocateur who skillfully puts his finger on the wound with his works. For example, his installation of 9,000 school bags commemorating the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren. Or his projects on the refugee crisis. His critics accuse him of using the media publicity to put himself in the spotlight with seemingly political statements.

He was criticized particularly loudly when he reenacted the photo of the Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, who drowned on the Turkish coast in 2015. In the documentary, he clearly counters the outrage he received: no one was able to explain to him why this was not moral. The fact that people were outraged by his portrayal, but not by the fact that children were dying every day in Aleppo, was ridiculous. Following the premiere of the DW documentary, he responded to the question of whether the boundaries of art were being overstepped: "As long as the artist is a human being, he has to deal with human crises." Weiwei's art is polarizing, but his message is simple: "We must understand that we are all one," he explains. "That what happens in Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere also has an effect on us. Even those of us who live in democratic societies and think we are safe will be amazed to see how quickly everything can change for us too."

A Life Between Beijing, New York and Berlin 
In addition to film footage and works that all deal with flight and migration, the filmmakers visit stations in Weiwei's life between Beijing, New York, and Berlin, where Weiwei talks about his life: about his father, his years in New York from 1981-1993, his imprisonment in 2011, and his move to Berlin in 2015. The documentary "Ai Weiwei Drifting" also provides insight into personal moments from the artist's everyday life: Weiwei cooking in his Berlin kitchen. At home in front of the television with his son. A visit to his mother in Beijing, who is the only person in the film who says anything about Weiwei. The filmmakers manage to capture these private moments authentically. His son, he says in the movie, has a better relationship with his mother than with him. He is a strict father and always interferes. His son doesn't like that.
"For me, Weiwei was like an enigma," says filmmaker Bettina Kolb of her experience. "I never knew what was going on inside his head. Above all, he is super fast," she says of the artist, who currently has eight different exhibitions. Eva Mehl, on the other hand, was impressed by the way Weiwei approached people: "He sat down with them just to spend time with them." The documentary "Ai Weiwei Drifting" paints a very personal portrait of one of the world's most famous artists, who says of himself: "I have no home. My home is the Internet.

Watch "Ai Weiwei Drifting" - a Deutsche Welle documentary (56 min.) by Eva Mehl and Bettina Kolb at

Source: Deutsche Welle

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