Artist and director Ai Weiwei’s beautiful, ponderous documentary takes cameras to the places where people flee danger and chaos. He examines the borders and intersections of countries and people groups. As the refugee crisis grows to massive proportions, more and more people are pushed into a desperate life that takes a heavy toll on them.
While this is a slow-moving, quiet documentary, it is visually beautiful, even in the places that seem most hopeless. He films in a way that emphasizes the fact that our world is always in motion. When people are forced to mark time in refugee camps or other places where their journeys stall, the motion continues, even if they are doing nothing but pacing as they wait.
Each location exposes a different way to suffer—the stories told on screen are heartbreaking and real. While many documentaries remain somewhat distant from the people in front of the camera, Weiwei greets them with dignity and treats them as new friends; he appears often and without noticeable vanity.
That is not to say that he has no agenda—he is an activist on behalf of refugees. The government of his home country, China, harassed and arrested him, and he ultimately left. The experience of displacement is something Weiwei understands, though he has been not been forced into the dire circumstances of so many.
This windy, gritty work of art will remind viewers of how many around the world have been pushed out of everyday lives by forces beyond their control. While Weiwei does not approach the situation with a biblical perspective, Christians can’t help but remember the words of Christ: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink” (Matt. 25:42). How will we respond to this tide of humanity?
Human Flow, in whole or in portions, would be a good basis for a small group discussion about the refugee crisis. Currently streaming on Amazon, many universities and other places in the U.S. will be screening it simultaneously on April 29 in conjunction with a live webcast Q&A with Weiwei himself. (Amazon/Participant)
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