Armed with a day school education and a college history degree, Alison Klayman, now 28, graduated from Brown University in 2006 and headed for Beijing, to learn the language and explore the culture. She told her parents that she’d stay for a few months; six years later, she is garnering international acclaim for her documentary film about China’s most famous dissident artist, Ai Weiwei.
Her timing was exquisite. She met Ai just as he was transforming from an avant-garde artist to an outspoken political dissident, criticizing the Chinese government for its handling of the 2008 Olympics and the devastating earthquake in Sichuan. His savvy use of video and social media ensured that his story had an audience, even when he was badly beaten by government thugs, or arrested and detained for 81 days last year.
Throughout, Klayman kept her camera trained on Ai, capturing his unpredictable narrative and its personal consequences with moving footage of the toll this life takes on his family. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” debuted at Sundance, where it received a special jury prize, was the opening night feature at Tel Aviv’s DocAviv Inernational Film Festival and won audience awards from Rio de Janeiro to Taiwan. In June Klayman was named as an artist to watch in ARTINFO’s “30 Under 30.”
Writing in the Forward about why she made the film, Klayman, granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, said, “I saw in Ai Weiwei the Chinese version of the quintessential Jewish outsider.” She is proof that the imperative to bear witness is carried on by a new generation.