Director Alison Klayman (pictured) recounted her experiences working under the radar in China at the Canadian premiere of her debut doc Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which kicked off the 19th annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto last night (April 26).
The film, which had its world premiere at Sundance in January, looks at the life of controversial Chinese artist Weiwei, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. It covers his formative years in New York, major exhibitions in London and Munich, and his 81-day detention for “tax evasion” in China.
Taking to the stage at the packed Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto after the first Canadian screening of the film, Klayman described the capricious experience of filming in China.
“The way things operate in China is very unpredictable,” she said, explaining that although she was there on an official journalism visa, the fact that she was not affiliated with a major organization such as the BBC or CNN meant she was able to operate somewhat under the radar from authorities.
The exact nature of her project “was still to be determined as I was doing it,” she would explain to those who asked what she was making during the years she filmed the artist.
As for her experience filming Weiwei, she described him as “the most cooperative uncooperative subject,” adding that in some ways “he’s like an open source document.”
Klayman first moved to China in 2006 before meeting Weiwei in 2008. While the artist was always accommodating in allowing her intimate access to film him, he was not exactly helpful in detailing his movements.
“The film was not really a collaborative process,” Klayman told the crowd. “His priority was not to make sure my little project was going well.” However, “he really understood that this film was my experience of him or my take on him.”
The premiere was followed by an opening night party at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, attended by filmmakers and industry execs including Klayman, The Invisible War helmer Kirby Dick, EyeSteelFilm’s Daniel Cross and Peter Wintonick, and John and Jamie Kastner.