This documentary essay, directed by well-known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, seeks to put a face to the unimaginable scope of refugee populations worldwide. Today, there are more displaced people than at any time since World War II. The film visits a number of ad hoc communities, where refugees have set up encampments in rail yards, or with tents in the desert. Cameras travel along newly erected borders, such as in Macedonia, or examine more established ones, like the walls in Palestine and along the U.S./Mexico border. Various immigrants are interviewed, and their accounts range from hopeful to despairing: “Nobody flees their country lightly,” says one woman. Populations in crisis include Kurds, Syrians, North Africans, Rohingya (fleeing Myanmar) and Afghan refugees in Pakistan, making the trek back to a still-struggling homeland.
Much of the footage is heartbreaking — elderly people, families and so many children making do under extreme physical and psychological duress. There are a few lighter moments; noted cat-admirer Ai Weiwei even meets Tabush, a Syrian pet cat now stateless in Europe. And occasionally, the camera finds extraordinarily striking imagery, such as the huddle of North Africans, wrapped in shimmery, crackly cheap foil blankets. It’s visually arresting, like an art installation, but that shiny cheap sheet of plastic is the sole possession of these desperate men. The film is quite long, nearly two-and-half hours, but then again, there is no amount of time to even begin to cover the breadth of this ongoing global crisis. The 4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 19, screening will include a talk-back with City of Asylum and participants familiar with refugees issues.