Human Flow review, Ai Weiwei

Human Flow, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

I had the good fortune of seeing Human Flow this month courtesy of our local film festival. The theatre was packed on a nondescript Wednesday night and the film did not disappoint. In it, filmmaker and artist Ai Weiwei paints a very dramatic and very human picture of the insane scale of the current refugee crisis.

Despite the fact that stories of refugees regularly appear in my news feed, I had no idea of the true magnitude of the crisis. Over 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape the uninhabitable and unimaginable, which is the greatest displacement since World War II. Instead of stepping up and offering solutions and support, nations are literally building walls and sending the refugees back to the horrors they are trying to desperately to escape.

The film did a heart-wrenchingly good job painting the picture of just how desperate and dire reality is for the refugees. A number of images will stay in my mind for a long time to come: the mother stopping to adjust how she is carrying her child and the rest of her possessions on her long journey, the elderly woman attempting a treacherous stream-crossing with the assistance of her peers, the children growing up without a sense of place or possibilities. As one of the interview candidates says, “Being a refugee is more than a political status. It is the most pervasive type of cruelty that can be exercised against a human being. You are forcibly robbing this human being of all aspects that would make human life not just tolerable but meaningful in many ways.”

The cruelty of their situation came across loud and clear. The refugees aren’t leaving their homes on a whim, but because they can no longer stay. War, discrimination, famine, and climate change all forcibly displace the young and old alike in search of a place where they can sleep soundly at night and build a community that supports their soul.

Weiwei and his crew adopted a nomadic lifestyle to record the footage and create this breathtaking film. Their commitment to the vision of the film is notable, as the crew traveled through 23 countries over the course of the year to shine a spotlight on refugee “camp” after “camp” (whether it be a tent city, walled compound or a converted airplane hangar). The cinematography throughout is both striking and breathtaking. Additionally, I really appreciated the contrast of inspiring quotes that appeared in the upper right hand corner of the screen, with the relevant facts and news headlines that appeared like a ticker tape along the bottom of the screen.

However, Human Flow is not without its flaws. It clocks in at almost two and a half hours and if I’m honest, I started checking my watch as we passed the ninety-minute mark. Additionally, there were a number of shots that included Weiwei alongside the refugees that seemed awkward and out of place.

In spite of its length and occasional awkward moment, I do wholeheartedly believe this is a very important film to watch. In the era of wall building and “us vs them” mentality, just being present alongside the stories of so many, touched my soul in ways I couldn’t predict. As the film so eloquently says, “The more immune you are to people’s suffering, that’s very, very dangerous. It’s critical for us to maintain this humanity.”

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.