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Courtesy of Amazon Studios/Ai Weiwei Studio

October 29, 2017

Where is Our Home Now? Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow”

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Few words are needed to express the heavy realities found within our global refugee crisis. Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow captivates an awareness of this crisis chronicling the unimaginable narratives of refugees around the globe. Weiwei follows a series of stories, capturing the lives of refugees in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico and Turkey.

The documentary displays the relentless existence of these refugees as they flee from the crises crippling their home countries. Natural landscapes provide a striking visual backdrop to the many struggles a refugee faces: the journey from their home country, navigating systems new countries have arranged, simultaneously living in a state of dependency and self-reliance, this list goes on. In many ways the expressive terrains of these countries highlights the human suffering displayed in the film. Lone and despondent figures look across roaring seascapes, the camera pans out revealing thousands of empty lifejackets strewn carelessly across the shore. These shots require no words yet comment on the transnational parallels of uncertainty, desperation and enduring human resiliency.

Weiwei shows how abandonment has become a disease infecting an exponentially growing number of displaced peoples. Relief as it pours out of overcrowded rafts alongside refugees is quickly swallowed up and replaced with a nagging resignation as escaping a damaged country provides no opportunity in an unwelcoming place. Yet despite the grave moments of inhumanity the refugees face, Weiwei also captures exactly what it means to be human. Love, affection, sadness curiosity, smiling children squirming to be seen on camera all provide a subtle commentary on what it means to be human and how similar we actually are. The extent of human suffering among refugees despite their assorted nationalities is a poignant reminder of human resemblance and the significance of human empathy.

Editor’s Note: Human Flow is now playing at Cinemapolis.

Lela Robinson is a sophomore in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. She can be reached at lgr47@cornell.edu.