Human Flow, Ai Weiwei’s refugee film, review

This video says about itself:

Human Flow Official Trailer

18 August 2017

A ground-breaking new documentary about the global refugee crisis from Ai Weiwei.

About Human Flow: Over 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war in the greatest human displacement since World War II.

Human Flow, an epic film journey led by the internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, gives a powerful visual expression to this massive human migration. The documentary elucidates both the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact.

Captured over the course of an eventful year in 23 countries, the film follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Turkey. Human Flow is a witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice: from teeming refugee camps to perilous ocean crossings to barbed-wire borders; from dislocation and disillusionment to courage, endurance and adaptation; from the haunting lure of lives left behind to the unknown potential of the future.

Human Flow comes at a crucial time when tolerance, compassion and trust are needed more than ever. This visceral work of cinema is a testament to the unassailable human spirit and poses one of the questions that will define this century: Will our global society emerge from fear, isolation, and self-interest and choose a path of openness, freedom, and respect for humanity? Amazon Studios, Participant Media and AC Films present Human Flow, a film directed by Ai Weiwei.

On 30 December 2017, I went to see the film Human Flow.

Its first words are lines from a poem by Nazim Hikmet. The lines, claiming the right to live in dignity, are:

I want the right of life, of the leopard at the spring,
of the seed splitting open
I want the right of the first man

Nazim Hikmet, this famous poet, was a refugee. The government of his native NATO country Turkey took away his passport and he had to flee to Warsaw Pact countries in eastern Europe.

The film’s director, Ai Weiwei, is a well-known Chinese visual artist. He paid attention to refugees before this film came out, like in an exhibition in Berlin and as organiser of a pro-refugee demonstration in London.

A positive, though not uncritical, review by Eric London from the USA is here. It says that the film does name the causes of why people become refugees; but hardly names individuals and organisations responsible for these causes.

The film, correctly, names two main causes of scores of millions of people fleeing their homes in desperation: inequality and war.

A Mexican human rights activist names inequality as causing refugees towards the end of the film. Here, it might have been mentioned that the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, became so rich, eg, by oppressing and exploiting the workers of his Amazon business. That Bezos and the two other Top Three richest men have as much money as the poorest 50% of the United States people together. That Bezos and the seven other Top Eight richest men have as much money as the poorest 50% of the world’s people together. However, part of the money of producing the film is from Amazon Studios, part of Bezos’ empire. The movie does not mention the Amazon empire. Self-censorship because otherwise there would have been no money to make this important and moving film? I don’t know.

The other cause of the refugee crisis which the film mentions is wars. It names the war on Iraq (of George W. Bush, not named). It mentions that oil was and is a main factor in that Iraq war. It mentions that ISIS terrorism is a consequence of (Bush and Blair’s) Iraq war. It mentions that the war made four million Iraqis refugees. It mentions that war killed many Iraqis. It says 268,000 people (other, credible, estimates like in British medical review The Lancet say over a million).

Like all people, and even more so than other people, humans fleeing the horrors of wars need love and compassion. Yet, they often get hatred from the extreme right in rich countries. Causing ‘centrist’ establishment politicians, scared of losing supporters to neofascists, to crack down on refugees. The film mentions that when the Berlin wall fell, only 11 countries in the world had borders with fences and walls. In 2016, it was 70.

The film says that for a long time in the second half of the twentieth century, in western Europe there was a relatively humane refugee policy. Feeling shame about the often bad treatment of Jewish and other refugees from Adolf Hitler during the 1930s played a role in that, I add. The film mentions the role of the cold war in this. Like Nazim Hikmet fled from NATO country Turkey to Warsaw Pact countries, other people fled the other way, to the west. Usually, stating ‘I went here because I don’t like communism’ was enough to be officially recognized as a refugee in a country like the Netherlands.

After the end of the Vietnam war in the 1970s, the Dutch navy sailed all the way around the globe to pick up boat refugees from the new Vietnamese communist party government and bring them to the Netherlands. Today, NATO warships often let boat refugees drown in the Mediterranean. Or they help to forcibly return them to Libya where they may become slaves.

Refoulement of refugees is illegal according to international law. Yet, rich countries like the USA and in western Europe do it. The film mentions the disastrous consequences of the deal between the Turkish Erdogan regime and the European Union, forcibly returning refugees to Turkey. There in Turkey, the film shows, they don’t get the protection of refugee status. The Turkish government may return them any time to war in Syria, Afghanistan or elsewhere. It often does so.

Ai Weiwei shows that the Erdogan regime also wages war within Turkey itself. It destroyed the homes of over half a million, mainly Kurdish, civilian people in eastern Turkey, making them refugees.

After the initial Nazim Hikmet poetry lines, the film depicts the sea between Turkey and the Greek island Lesbos. An inflatable boat full of refugees manages to finish the perilous journey, landing on Lesbos. I myself made the journey between Turkey and Lesbos on a safe passenger ship. I enjoyed seeing shearwaters fly and bottlenose dolphins jump. How soothing it might have been for these fugitives from bloodshed to forget for a moment the horrors of ‘humanitarian’ war, while safely watching birds and dolphins!

Then, the film shows some improvement for refugees. Some of them can travel in a safe passenger ferry ship from Lesbos to continental Greece. One can see some of the adults and children smile, looking more relaxed.

However, once they arrive at the border between Greece and Macedonia, the horrors start again. As part of a chain reaction of many European governments, the Greek-Macedonian border is closed. Idomeni refugee camp becomes a hell on earth. A Greek government minister compared it to the nazi camp Dachau. A comparison also made by Pope Francis I.

The movie also pays attention to refugees outside Europe, like in Africa and Asia. A victim of the anti-Rohingya genocide in Myanmar talks about the violence by the military junta. He says the Rohingya don’t retaliate with violence, as their Islamic faith does not allow that. An interesting remark, as Islamophobes claim that supposedly all Muslims want to kill all non-Muslims, confounding violent groups like ISIS with the non-violent majority of Muslims.

The film continues to Palestinian refugees in Gaza. A tiger lives in Gaza in a bad situation. Animal lovers manage to get the animal out of Gaza to a better life in South Africa. To do that, they get cooperation of Palestinian, Israeli and other authorities. Unfortunately, there is not yet such cooperation for improving the lives of the millions of Palestinian refugees as there is for this one big cat.

For more hope for the 65 million refugees in the world, governments that care only for billionaires and for making war need to go.

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