Renowned Chinese activist director Ai Weiwei travelled the world to capture the vast scale of today’s never-ending flood of refugees in his powerful documentary, Human Flow.
The film is a monumental project, with harrowing cinematography of refugees in 23 countries, from Thailand to Sweden, from Kenya to Mexico, from Turkey to Gaza.
Today there are more than 65 million displaced people who have left their homes in search of a better life.
Ai has always identified strongly with refugees. He began life as an exile in the remote Gobi Desert during China’s Cultural Revolution, when his father, an acclaimed poet, was labelled an enemy of the state.
It was not until 1976, when Ai was 18, that the family was allowed to return from exile. He enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and joined an underground movement to transform the Chinese art scene.
Since then he has lived in New York, China and now Europe, earning a worldwide reputation as a challenging, dissident voice in his films, paintings, photography, writing, performance and installations.
He now lives in Berlin and has become increasingly involved with the refugee crisis.
One of the most telling scenes in Human Flow shows an endless trail of homeless people trudging through a forest somewhere in Europe.
In Greece the torrent of boat arrivals stops suddenly when the refugees reach the Macedonian border – to find it barred by coils of sharp razor wire.
In Afghanistan the cameras film a trail of colourful trucks full of displaced Afghans, expelled from Pakistan but facing an uncertain future in their homeland.
In France we see the authorities destroy a makeshift camp built by 10,000 transients, hoping to get from there to England.
Ai speaks to an unknown woman. “I have been roaming with my son for 60 days,” she says wearily. “Nobody has shown us the way. Where am I supposed to start my new life?”
On the United States border with Mexico the film team are challenged by a border guard patrolling by motor cycle. “How long will you be filming there?” he asks, and leaves, satisfied, when they say half an hour.
Ai doesn’t attempt to suggest any solution for the refugee crisis. His aim, he says, is to awaken people’s humanity, to look on the refugees as people, not numbers.
“I believe any crisis or hardship that happens to another human being should be as if it is happening to us,” he says. “If we don’t have that kind of trust in each other, we are deeply in trouble.”
Human Flow will open at Event Cinemas on 15 March.
Watch the trailer…