The global refugee crisis is staggering. Ai Wei Wei’s documentary Human Flow chronicles the heart-breaking tragedy. Incredibly, Ai Wei Wei plants a human face on it. Filmed in 23 countries over 1 year, this work is epic.
The anatomy of the refugee crisis
Because war-torn countries produce fearful living conditions, citizens choose statelessness over death. All in all led by hope of a better life, they flee. However, their dreams of escape bog down in painful reality. And consequently, they become invisible as they search for safe asylum in the West. Sadly, many never reach it.
Oftentimes, moving to another country means people replace one form of death for another. Because host countries cannot deal with vast numbers, refugees remain at borders. Across the barbed wire divide they struggle. They live in tents with little food and potable water. Of course, poor sanitation and horrific living conditions give way to chronic diseases. Though medical personnel attempt to help, the crisis overwhelms. Again, refugees face a living-death that produces despair and hopelessness. In point of fact this despair becomes the breeding ground for terrorism; because hopeless youth have no purpose, they become more easily brainwashed to kill for a cause.
Ai Wei Wei’s artistic and heart-felt account
Through Ai Wei Wei’s breathtaking artistic genius, Human Flow strikes one’s heart. Moreover, the film is cinematic. Through careful overhead shots and wide angles, Wei Wei starkly unravels suffering humanity. Additionally, he sounds the alarm that this crisis threatens every nation.
Notably, there are 65 million displaced people and numbers increase daily. Thankfully, Ai Wei Wei brings his concern and love to people as more than statistics. Interestingly, he does this by focusing on specific individuals. As he interviews and films men, women, and children, we identify. However, he does this after he reviews the countries involved in war. Also, he points out countries that face harm because of climate change. Finally, he focuses on how and why citizens escape.
Because 70 countries wall out refugees, border camps that do house refugees seem massive. Ironically, these camps provided by host countries become a partial haven. For example, Ai Wei Wei shows the Syrian war’s impact. As refugees fled to avoid bombs raining down, over one million flooded through 40-45 crossing points in Jordan. Even though Jordan attempted to help, the numbers overwhelmed. Thus, many Syrians became stuck while living conditions broke down.
Again and again, Ai Wei Wei reviews how war, famine, climate change, and ethnic cleansing cause people to migrate. Wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, and Myanmar contributed indirectly to the crisis. Accordingly, Wei Wei films key countries and refugee camps. Also, he films tense crossing points like Southern Italy, Turkey, Idomeni, Greece, Calais, France, and Hungary. As such from these points migrants hoped to go into the West. However, countries like Hungary, Turkey, France, and Macedonia closed their borders and treated migrants harshly.
Nevertheless, migrants stay on the move and create camps wherever there is open ground. Then they wait and hope. While they live in tents, they suffer heat and cold, starve, battle dysentery, weaken, die. The documentarian highlights each misery and he pins a human face to it. Subsequently, we learn and empathize. Through refugees’ comments and Ai Wei Wei’s filmmaking, the picture comes clear. As he moves inside individual’s tents, he examines their lives. From their outdoor cooking fires to rare doctor visits, we see the light.
At the same time refugees in tents decline, those in organized camps decline. Though the latter have shelter and food, they feel like outsiders. Actually, they become bored, need schooling and jobs. Problematically, host countries cannot provide this quickly.
Globalization hits refugees hard
Global economies make refugees faceless. Because the profit motive creates an economic divide, their numbers will grow. If numbers of stateless people traumatize now, as numbers increase, what then? Camps may turn into death camps unless the UN and EU nations act. Poverty contributes to this crisis in countless ways.
The unthinkable happened to these people. Wei Wei reveals this could happen to those in the West. For realistically, no one leaves one’s homeland easily. Indeed, recent hurricanes in the U.S. remind us that terrible living conditions cause good people to flee. Therefore, themes in Ai Wei Wei’s film suggest this could happen even to the “haves.” No one is exempt.
Ours is a time to help “the least” of us. For one never knows when the reverse may happen. We may be on the outside looking in. Rather than build walls to shut out the light, paths must be created to close the divide. Finally, those conditions which create the need for mass migration must be stopped. Corporations profiting through continual wars must pull back, and the UN’s and the West’s hypocritical lip service of upholding human rights while doing the opposite must end.
Wei Wei’s film breaks one’s heart and is difficult to watch. How much easier it is to be entertained so one can forget. Though we each face our own demons, having no security, having no home seems much worse. How does one recover when no one wants to help? Wei Wei’s film asks tough questions. Do we have answers? Surely, if our leaders do not, eventually conditions will force them to.
Human Flow has won awards. First, it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The Hamptons International Film Festival screens the documentary on 6 October and 8 October. And it opens in wider release on 13 October. See it if you dare.