Amazon and Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow puts a face to human migration

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Yesterday I had what’s colloquially known as a first world problem. I had to decide if I wanted to stop playing a game, put on a pair of pants, and venture out to grab something to eat.

Yesterday, millions of other people had real problems – like how to cross miles of desert or ocean with limited food and water, and little more than the clothes on their backs. All in search of not merely a better life, but rather a chance at life, for both themselves and their children as they seek to escape parts of the world ravaged by war and drought.

There’s not really a comparison now is there?

The causes and consequences of human migration are numerous and complex, and it’s a contentious issue around the globe that’s nowhere near being solved. One thing that’s very easy to do when hearing discussions around it is to forget that we’re not talking about a number of things, we’re talking about human beings. This is the point of the upcoming documentary Human Flow from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – to remind us that refugees are people.

The official synopsis is as follows:

Over 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war in the greatest human displacement since World War II. Human Flow, an epic film journey led by the internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, gives a powerful visual expression to this massive human migration. The documentary elucidates both the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact.

Captured over the course of an eventful year in 23 countries, the film follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Turkey.

Human Flow is a witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice: from teeming refugee camps to perilous ocean crossings to barbed-wire borders; from dislocation and disillusionment to courage, endurance and adaptation; from the haunting lure of lives left behind to the unknown potential of the future.

Human Flow comes at a crucial time when tolerance, compassion and trust are needed more than ever. This visceral work of cinema is a testament to the unassailable human spirit and poses one of the questions that will define this century: Will our global society emerge from fear, isolation, and self-interest and choose a path of openness, freedom, and respect for humanity?

It’s one of the oldest political tricks in the book – point to “the other”, tell you they’re dangerous and out to take what’s yours, then offer to protect you from them. That’s something we’ve all seen with increasing regularity over the years, especially towards displaced migrants who are a very easy, desperate, and powerless target. It’s very effective rhetorically, but very ineffective when it comes to actually addressing the issue because it doesn’t tackle the actual causes or propose meaningful solutions.

I think this is an important documentary at this time particular time in the world. Cultures may vary, and yes even conflict with one another, but humanity is universal.

Human Flow will receive it’s first screening at the Venice Film Festival on 1 September.

Last Updated: August 21, 2017

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