“I thought documentary was the next level of doing really good journalism. Which I don’t know if I would call it exactly that now that I’ve done it, but I still believe that bringing journalistic skills and standards to a documentary is pretty important,” Alison Klayman, a former CNN journalist who told his story on Frontline on PBS before making her documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, told The Huffington Post.
The tension between documentary and journalism is present in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and while one may want a few more details about the dissident Chinese artist’s rise to fame and fortune, Klayman’s reporting is remarkable as is her filmmaking access. Her boldness and courage matches that of Ai Weiwei, which is probably why he let her hang around. Still she is smart enough to use other journalists when needed to help her tell her story, as she said to The Huffington Post:
“In the end you really do learn a lot about his personal life through the way he responds to Evan Osnos, and the BBC reporter at the Tate. I think part of it is if I’d asked him, “OK now I want to ask you about your son,” he would say, “that’s personal, we’re not going to talk about that.” But part of that could be about our relationship, where he’s like, “you film everything all the time and I know you know this, so why do you want me to talk about it?” Whereas if it’s someone else, he might think they’re genuinely asking. That’s why sometimes it was better for someone else to ask because he’ll just think, you’re just trying to get me to perform this story for you. But in the end he didn’t shy away, and Evan is the one who seems a little more nervous [asking about the affair]. It’s something that had to be in the film because it’s such an important part of his life.”
Observational documentary filmmakers like Albert Maysles and D. A. Pennebaker included print journalists memorably in their films on Truman Capote and Bob Dylan respectively.
Evan Osnos, the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, who has followed Ai Weiwei’s story led the Q & A last night at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and added further insight into the fascinating Ai Weiwei’s role as an architect, his use of twitter, and his impact in China. After Osnos’s sensitive and impressive handling of questions from the audience who chose to go to the movies instead of staying home for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London, I learned that he is the son of my Columbia Journalism classmate Peter Osnos, who was in the back of the theatre.
Klayman’s persistence and determination to make her documentary led to its debut at last January’s Sundance Film Festival and to the first-time filmmaker finding a group of experienced producers to help her launch her documentary that expands our knowledge of China today and our awareness of those who struggle for individual freedoms.