Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow is a powerful call to arms

Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow portrays the wait, the risks and the routes of thousands of migrants around the world.

9 months agoText by


The world has become an extensive stage of human movement. Men, women and children leave their homes to escape from bombings and missiles, to find a better destiny in the face of the economic crisis and to save their lives from conflict and hostility. All of this has been recorded by Ai Weiwei’s cameras and team as part of the project and film Human Flow which has lasted a year and has taken them to 23 different countries. Without any political speeches, the documentary acts as a call to the whole of humankind to draw solidarity with those stripped of everything.

The dizzying climate change, the bloody wars in the Middle East, the dictatorships that came as a result of European colonialism and the growing economic inequalities have led to an exponential growth of migrations during this century – the most significant displacement since the end of the World War II. What is seen in newspaper headlines, figures of migratory records and in declarations of global leaders, acquires a detailed and agonising examination in Human Flow, constructed as a mosaic of personal and community histories, forged every day before our eyes.

In a remarkable display of production, Ai Weiwei brings his cameras and drones to major refugee camps in the world and areas of migratory conflict. From Calais to the border between Mexico and the United States, through Kenya, Jordan, Kenya, Turkey, Myanmar, Lebanon, Gaza, Greece, Berlin, Paris, Sicily: in each of these places, we see the refugees and their stories of deprivation and injustice.

The impact of the aerial images captured by drones is conjugated with the anchoring of stories within each territory, the stark truth of the destruction in regions such as Syria or the Gaza Strip with the voice of its thousands of inhabitants trapped on train stations, in German hangars, in endless waits. Ai Weiwei shows us the number of humans who walk every day without having a fixed destination. From high height they are perceived as ants, surrounded by an overwhelming silence that impacts from the beginning.

Human Flow is one of those stories that is not a pretty painting. Ai Weiwei fully fixates on the catastrophe, telling the viewer that this painful reality exists. It covers all aspects of the issue: from the victims to the authorities of various humanitarian institutions in a vast majority of (if not all) countries where this phenomenon occurs. The filmmaker knows how to accurately capture the sadness of exile and the desire to denounce each subject whose camera is aimed at. Here we see how, far from home, pain always hurts more.

Human Flow is out in select cinemas now.
Featured image Khan Yunis.

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