Weiwei kicks off Friday flicks

Alison Klayman was waiting in Ai Weiwei's Beijing office looking at his architectural proofs, posters and sculptures, when the man in question entered.

"Immediately all the attention was focused on Weiwei," Klayman, 28, said of her Dec. 2008 encounter. "Physically, he's kind of a big guy, but also I really do believe that energy-wise he commands the attention of a room."

Klayman, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, was tasked with creating a film about Weiwei's artwork. The documentary, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," is showing Friday at the Forum Theater as part of the city's Friday Flicks at the Forum.

During those first few days of filming, Klayman took note of the artist's comical and somber personality. She was also struck by his genuine concern for free expression, individual rights and the dignity of life.

"I'd already spent two years living in China, but hadn't encountered anyone else who wanted to discuss politics so directly and critically," the New York resident said. "I remember thinking, 'Damn, there should be a movie made about Ai Weiwei. I'd want to watch it. Someone should make it.'"

Klayman spent the next three years — two of them traveling across the world with her Sony Z5 — piecing together "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," with the last year spent editing.

The 91-minute R-rated movie, released in 2012, offers an in-depth look into the life of the Chinese conceptual artist and candid activist who is wildly popular in social media spheres.

"It's really a story about individual courage and expression," Klayman said. "The movie is about what it means to have courage and finding a creative way to communicate the change you want to see in the world."

The documentary was recognized at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, 2012 Movies That Matter Festival, 2012 NY Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and others. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" is one of three films that will be shown as part of the Friday Flicks at the Forum.

While Arts Commissioner Suzi Chauvel and Arts Manager Sian Poeschl lead the initiative, Friday Flicks at the Forum has the unanimous backing of the Laguna Beach Arts Commission.

"We had long hoped to instigate an Arts Commission program of original films by artists, about artists for the arts community," said Chauvel, who attends Sundance regularly, gaining insight into new films that can be included in Laguna Beach's programming.

In its fifth year, the film series comprises screenings on the first Friday of January, February and March. Movies start at 7 p.m. and usually last about 90 minutes. The event is open to all and free.

Up next is a 103-minute 2011 release "Pina," which will be aired on Feb. 1 Directed by Wim Wender, the PG German 3D documentary features legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. On March 1, audiences can watch "Searching for Sugar Man," a PG-13 film, with a run time of 86 minutes. The protagonist of this film is 1970s rock n' roll artist, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.

"[Sian] contacts the film distribution company to obtain the screen license to show the film," said Arts Commission chair Pat Kollenda, of the licenses that range in cost from $250 to $750. "The films are always about artists, art genres and movements."

According to Chauvel, the arts-centric city of Laguna Beach is an ideal location for this type of event.

"In the dark of a cold winter's night, it is extremely special to share an inspiring film with like-minded artistic souls," Chauvel said. "Only in Laguna Beach."

Klayman recounted feeling grateful when her movie was selected for Friday Flicks at the Forum, which is backed by funding from the city of Laguna Beach, BID tax and donations from local residents Mark Porterfield and Steve Chadima.

Appreciative of the attention and awards, Klayman is overjoyed that "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" has been translated to over 24 languages, allowing her to contribute to the "global conversation about modern China."

"One of the greatest lessons — a very literal one for a filmmaker — that I learned from Weiwei is, 'If you don't turn on your camera because you're afraid they're going to take it from you, then it's as if they already have,'" she said. "No one can stop you from taking that first step, be it opening your mouth, turning on your camera or putting pen to paper. And that's really important to have — freedom within your mind and heart."


Twitter: @RMahbubani

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