This extraordinary and beautiful documentary is being shown as part of the Hyde Park Picture House contribution to National Refugee Week. ‘Human Flow’ is a deeply human and respectful response to the plight of 65 million people displaced worldwide: a fusion of art, cinema and politics which helps us to develop the empathy and understanding we need when looking for political solutions to the global refugee crisis.
Why is Human Flow so special?
Director, Ai Weiwei, himself lived in internal political exile in terrible conditions during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. He later escaped to the United States and then to Germany. Governments tend to think of migration in terms of numbers, of masses of migrants lacking in personal identity. By way of contrast, Ai focuses on intimate portraits of individuals and small groups, introducing us to people with hopes, families, friends, and pets. ‘Human Flow’ takes us into their frightening worlds of border fences and gates, disused railway stations, life jackets and survival blankets, interpreters and mobile phones.
We are facing a shifting world order. Displaced people flee the effects of war, poverty, hunger, racism, and climate breakdown which leave them with no hope for their future if they stay. Here are stories of people so desperate that they leave behind their language, homes, habits, friends and communities for life-risking journeys and unknown futures. Ai Weiwei uses technologies ranging from iPhones to drones to take us to 23 countries as far apart as Afghanistan, Greece, Myanmar and Kenya to hear from them directly.
Let’s not forget that Ai Weiwei is an artist as well as a human rights activist. His openness and empathy reminds me of performance artist Marina Abramović when she shared a period of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her in the New York Museum of Modern Art for three months (The Artist Is Present, 2010).
‘Human Flow’ is ultimately an expression of solidarity. If someone is hurt, we are all being hurt. That refugee could be my mother, my son, my husband, or my neighbour. We are all citizens of the world. This harrowing global migration is a challenge to our freedom and democracy, for all of us, wherever we live.
Ai Weiwei says that, in the face of global displacement of human populations, resorting to physical borders and walls is like building a dam to stop a flood. It doesn’t solve the issue entirely and may well make matters worse. It is better to make paths which let this human flow continue with as much dignity and respect as possible (for example through implementing policies which match our obligations under international conventions relating to the status of refugees), while at the same time working to tackle the reasons for human displacement at their source.
Let’s face it. 2017 was a crap year for most of us. So many outrages, and “the authorities” so slow to act. But wait! ThreeBillboards gives us a champion. Watch irrepressible Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) use her visceral rage to shame “them” into action. “Them” is the local police or anyone else who gets in her way. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and the rest of this superb cast had better watch out!
The issue is that Mildred’s daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered seven months ago. Have the police got any leads? Have they Hell! Maybe a few billboard messages will get them off their fat butts.
Mildred Hayes: What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?
Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones): Or… Anus.
Mildred Hayes: Well I think I’ll be alright then.
This film deservedly won the Audience Award for new feature films at this year’s (2017) Leeds International Film Festival. It’s another triumph for In Bruges (2008) director Martin McDonagh. Ebbing, Missouri is as complex a community as any other. We get to see not only the anger but also the humour, kindness, sadness and violence of small town life. And naturally Ebbing is not exempt from Midwestern prejudices.
Mildred Hayes: So how’s it all going in the nigger-torturing business, Dixon?
Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell): It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.
And if Mildred Hayes doesn’t like this review, I’m keeping well out of her way …
Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro’s Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974. (AP Photo)
Apart from reactionaries in the USA most people will mourn the passing of this revolutionary leader. So a good way to celebrate his achievements and contributions would be to screen one of the outstanding films that were produced by ICAIC. My preferred title would be Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del subdesarrollo, 1968) directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea which has been restored by the World Cinema Foundation. And Alea’s later The Last Supper (La última cena 1976) is likely to be available on 35mm . Another would be Lucía (1968) directed by Humberto Solás which should also still be available in a 35mm print.
Since either would now be in a 2017 programme this would also provide a harbinger for celebrations of the centenary of the 1917 Revolution as ICAIC were among the important heirs of Soviet Silent Montage.
What We Do In The Shadows was writer/director Taika Waititi’s previous film and the winner of the Audience Award at LIFF28. Unusually for me, it was a film I saw three times in the cinema and thought it got better each time.
Everybody lovesit. Until very recently Wilderpeople had 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning it hadn’t received a negative review from any critics. It’s now dropped to 98% but that’s still ‘Certified Fresh‘. On Letterboxd (“a social network for sharing your taste in film”) it has been one of the highest rated films of the year.
Taika Waititi is also directing Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and found time to make this short film, possibly the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet:
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is screening daily at Hyde Park Picture House from Friday 23rd September.