Sunday, August 7

Ai Weiwei on the death of Diane Weyermann: “Like a bridge of hope blown away by the storm” | Documentary films

Diane is gone. When someone close passes away, we feel that a part of us has gone along with them. A part of our understanding of the world, a link in our interpersonal network, our previous value judgment and actions in the past have been lost due to the passing of a close friend.

This feeling of being lost is sometimes very strong and clear, almost like the lack of a lit candle on the bank of a river or a pile of extinguished coal in cold weather. We can’t imagine it before people disappear from our life. When they disappear, we suddenly realize that the light and heat, which faded with their passing, are lost forever. They are irreplaceable and will never come back. Whatever happens in the future, all that is lost is lost forever.

Diane Weyermann at Sundance 2004.
Diane Weyermann at Sundance 2004. Photograph: Rebecca Sapp / Sundance Institute

I met Diane when she was working on Human Flow, my documentary on the global refugee crisis. Initially, I did not anticipate the involvement of people outside my team in its production. All I wanted to do was honestly document my feelings, expose them, and leave a historical record. I was very surprised when Diane from Participant (the Los Angeles-based entertainment production meant to stimulate social change) showed interest when she was about to start doing it. He soon joined, along with Andy Cohen, as executive producers on the film.

At that time, I devoted myself entirely to issues related to the crisis. I was absorbing knowledge as a student and very eager to understand the history of human migration and how society treated the less fortunate among us who reached out to send out distress signals. All of this is unfamiliar and familiar to me at the same time. I come from China. My childhood experience made me realize that many people need help, and this help has to be selfless, although it is probably useless. Without the help of others, displaced people would be desperate and without a way out.

During the production and distribution of Human Flow, I had a lot of contact with Diane. Sometimes I wondered why Diane, such a prominent film producer and a longtime mainstay of documentary making in the United States, strongly believed in and selflessly supported the relatively distant theme of my film.

Diane loved documentaries and everything related: filmmakers, cinematography, storytelling. She advised me to encapsulate more stories and fewer statements of opinion in my film, but I was very stubborn. In my opinion, storylines are the most important part of my documentaries. Although I did not accept her well-intentioned suggestion, I did send all of my films after Human Flow to Diane for a preview. She expressed strong support for my work and introduced me to film festivals and distributors. However, all my films since Human Flow have not been accepted by any major film festival. They have all bowed down to China and submitted to its domination in the cultural sector. They are willing to give it their all for a slice of the cake in the Chinese market. It is very sad for the world of cinema. Fortunately, today we have practically said goodbye to the film age and are entering a more chaotic and cluttered period of visual clutter.

Diane was one of the most selfless and generous people I have ever met. Both she and Andy Cohen are big of mind and heart, with a very high degree of magnanimity that is rarely seen. They are always ready to embrace the unknown, and even danger, as they are passionate about life and relentlessly cling to their ideals. Diane’s willingness to contribute to a cause she believes in is truly an inspiration to me, and her transmission is a great loss to like-minded people; like a bridge of hope and imagination blown away by the storm.

Ai Weiwei's production of the documentary Human Flow (2017) on mass migration.  Diane Weyermann was one of the executive producers.
Ai Weiwei’s production of the documentary Human Flow (2017) on mass migration. Diane Weyermann was one of the executive producers. Composite: Getty

We live on Earth in a cold universe where we depend on human nature to survive and develop; Human nature is made up of the fervor and imagination of countless individuals. Without independent thinking, superior wisdom, decision-making ability, and an action-driven approach, human society will be unable to put ideas and imagination into practice, and we will become rigid, frozen, without lust, and without blessing.

Diane’s passing made me feel that every living individual should be fully self-actualizing and insist on pursuing ideals with free thought, free expression, and proactivity. It is the only way we can feel that, as individuals, we are not alone. Every effort is embedded with meanings. Passivity is a poison in human nature. The best antidote is dedication of oneself to ideals and to other people.

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