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HUMAN FLOW gets 6.5/10 Time and tide

Directed by Ai Weiwei
Starring Ai Weiwei, Hanan Ahrawi, Rozhan Hossin


65 million people have been forced to migrate, due to climate change, famine, and war. This marks the greatest human exodus since the Second World War, and has become a fractious issue across continents. In Human Flow, artist Ai Weiwei charts this migration across the period of a year, looking at the issue across 23 countries, witnessing both the dangerous crossings, the refugee camps and the defended borders that the migrants face.

How to eat an elephant? Well for Weiwei the answer seems to be to unhinge your jaws in a python-like manner and to try and swallow the thing in one single bite. His approach to the largest wave of migration since World War 2 is to tackle the issue head on, in as broad and comprehensive a fashion as possible. Unsurprisingly the result is an overwhelming two and a half hours of cinema, that is bewildering, soul-crushing, and heart-wrenching. It may also be a much-needed and accurate reflection on the sheer scale of the issue, giving us insight even as our minds struggle to deal with scope of the undertaking.

And it is a mammoth undertaking. Weiwei flies to all corners of the globe to cover the various migrations and migratory routes that refugees are taking. As such the focus of the film is constantly shifting, and there is no single narrative thread holding the documentary together, other than the vast subject matter and Weiwei himself. The result leaves you conflicted. Although you can admire the beautiful cinematography, the innovative use of drone aerial shots to convey the sheer scale of movement, the tragedy of the individual tales, and the undeniable power of the message overall… you can also get a little lost along the way. In amongst that massive scale, you can loose sight of the individual and the personal.

What we are left with is still a beautiful and moving film. An extensive record of tragedy, with a vastly important message at its heart. Human Flow is a call for understanding and a targeted approach from an international basis to help with the various humanitarian crisis occurring, a call to provide adequate aid to allow 65 million people some quality of life, and a call for us not to harden our hearts and to turn away from people in need.


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