The mystery of geopolitical consensus: China, a major economic ally of the U.S., regularly tramples on human rights, imprisons journalists and artists and runs forced labor camps.
This is good, where cinema is concerned at least. Because of the latest shenanigans from China’s leaders, a sham lawsuit in this case, our attention is drawn to Ai Weiwei, China’s leading abstract artist, an outsize personality and the subject of a new documentary called “Ai Wei Wei: The Fake Case,” being released this month.
In its eagerness to quiet Weiwei down China’s government has mounted a bogus legal case against him, accusing him of tax evasion, online dissemination of pornography, and bigamy, all in retaliation for Weiwei’s outspoken criticism of the government.
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The rabble-rousing “Ai Wei Wei: The Fake Case” was able to be made thanks to the unprecedented access to Weiwei that Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen got, during a year in which the artist lived under house arrest. Johnsen has already directed a dozen documentaries, the themes of artists and repression being central to his preoccupations.
The film’s release was timed with an exhibit taking place at the Brooklyn Museum called “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” and which is the first large-scale museum exhibition of his work in New York.
Exactly three years ago Weiwei was actually kidnapped by Chinese authorities and detained at a secret location. He was released eighty-one days later and placed under house arrest.
“Ai Wei Wei: The Fake Case” follows him as he first returns home, suffering from a sleep disorder and memory loss. There were eighteen cameras monitoring his studio and home and police officers following his every move.
Naturally, the heavy restrictions placed upon him by Chinese authorities began to weigh down on him, as Johnsen shows in the film.
Journalists, the art world and his family jockeyed for Weiwei’s attention constantly. And then there was the $2.5 million lawsuit, courtesy of China’s government, which would provide the blueprint for making this documentary.
Among the many moments captured by the filmmaker, Weiwei is shown spending time with his young son, talking about the past with his mother and of chasing off the police after they accidentally injure one of his staff.
When the various media and film crews posted nearby that kept asking Weiwei for more statements began to feel like harassment, he eventually asked them to leave. He was banned from talking to them, anyway. Andreas Johnsen stood in the background and recorded that, too.
During his year on probation Weiwei frequently found new ways to challenge China’s government in his fight for human rights, persuaded that his country was ready for change.
As a consequence of the Chinese government’s dodgy policies all but one thing happened: their methods inadvertently turned repression into a potent publicity drive, thrusting Weiwei into the spotlight. This latest film by Andreas Johsen will help shed light on the most famous artist repression case of our times.
Film comes out May 16th; check local listings (visit the film’s site)