By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Alison Klayman headed to China for an “adventure,” as she puts it, she got what she was expecting, and more. While studying history at Brown University, Klayman did a lot of radio work for NPR. She then went on to work for Global Radio News while in Beijing, eventually taking over the Bureau Chief office there.
A Chinese roommate of Klayman’s, Stephanie Tung, was in charge of curating photographs from Ai Weiwei’s 10-year stay in New York City. Klayman remembers Tung bringing home scads of contact sheets.
“I would look through them and she would tell me the stories, and it was a really good entry point into who this guy is,” said Klayman.
Klayman ended up shooting a video for the exhibit in December 2008. She continued to film Ai Weiwei for the next three years.
Her new documentary film, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” profiles mainland China’s most famous and controversial artist. A native of Beijing, Ai Weiwei never stops going in several directions at once. Best known in the West for his criticism of the Chinese government and outspokenness against government corruption in particular, Ai Weiwei has also produced a substantial body of photography, sculpture, architecture, and other works in a variety of artistic media. His political and cultural views led to his arrest in 2011. His supporters worried as to whether he would walk free again.
Asked if she ever feared for her own safety or about her incarceration, first-time film director Alison Klayman, a native of the United States, replies, “My biggest fear was ‘Oh no, all the people I’m with are going to get detained.’ Obviously, I had to be careful, but my feeling was that the risks I was facing, versus the risks that the Chinese citizens I was traveling with were facing, were not equal. I remember that scene where they have a scuffle outside a public security station, I was shooting from the car, and I remember calling friends in Beijing, not sure if we were going to be detained.”
Despite being an English-speaking journalist, Klayman quickly embraced the Chinese language, doing much of the interviewing and translation for the film on her own.
“My Mandarin is functional. I did all of the interviews in the film myself without translators, and did a fair amount of the subtitling myself, although I did have people check it,” said Klayman. I thought it was a great language to learn, you just have to get the tones down, and the grammar is fairly simple. Within two years, I was going out doing interviews, just assuming I was going to get by.”
In the time that Klayman spent shooting Ai Weiwei, the two developed a comfortable familiarity, which serves to benefit the documentary. The day of our interview happened to be the birthday of Ai Weiwei, who was later released and returned to a fair amount of social networking.
“I’ve known [Ai Weiwei] to celebrate two different birthdays. But everyone on Twitter today wished him a Happy Birthday, and he said, ‘Thank You.’ ” (end)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” opens Friday, August 3rd, at the Harvard Exit Theatre, 807 East Roy Street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. For prices and showtimes, consult local listings or call 206-781-5755.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.