China protests Ai Weiwei documentary by exiting film festival

Artist Ai Weiwei with his "Sunflower Seeds" installation.
(Lennart Preiss / Associated Press)

China has reportedly withdrawn its delegation from a documentary film festival in Britain in reaction to the festival’s screening of a new movie about Ai Weiwei, the artist and political activist who has repeatedly found himself in trouble with Chinese authorities.

As first reported Wednesday by, the Sheffield Doc/Fest in Britain received a request from the Chinese Embassy in London to cancel the screening of “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” directed by Alison Klayman. After the festival refused, a group of 10 Chinese delegates to the festival withdrew from their scheduled appearances.

The festival told that the official reason for the cancellation was “a restriction on the number of travel trips they [the Chinese representatives] can make to Europe.” But the festival’s director said that festival and Chinese officials held “a number of difficult conversations” over the disagreement.

In addition to the clash over the film, the Chinese Embassy also objected to the screening of “High Tech / Low Life,” a documentary about the use of social networking sites in China. The festival is scheduled to run through Sunday.


“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” debuted earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to open in the U.S. in late July. The documentary has already been shown at festivals around the world.

Ai is an avid user of Twitter and other social networking sites to promote free speech in China. In 2011, the artist was imprisoned for 81 days by authorities in Beijing. He currently is fighting a $2.1-million tax bill in court.


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