Highlight of Nevada City Film Festival features Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
It’s not unusual for a local resident to screen her film as part of the Nevada City Film Festival.
However, it isn’t every day a filmmaker is granted access into the creative mind and world of renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. This is precisely the situation that part-time Nevada City dweller Cheryl Haines found herself in.
Haines’ debut picture will be just one of the highlights of the 19th annual Nevada City Film Festival, taking place Friday to Aug. 30. “Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly” is not just a documentary, but a visual time capsule of an ambitious undertaking nearly five years in the making.
Haines, also an artist and gallery owner, heads the FOR-SITE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that “is dedicated to the creation, understanding and presentation of art about place.” The organization’s largest project, arguably, is their collaboration with Weiwei entitled @ Large, a commission of several works that took over the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco for seven months in 2014-15.
In addition to curating the impressive installation, Haines documented the project on film, resulting in “Yours Truly,” her first foray into cinema. The movie records the efforts that went into @ Large, an installation which included a gallery of portraits (made of Legos, no less) of prisoners of conscience, or political prisoners.
Another facet of the installation provided post cards on which visitors wrote encouraging messages to those who were currently incarcerated for political or controversial beliefs.
Audiences of “Yours Truly” get an in-depth look not only at the creative processes behind @ Large, but at the emotional complexity of Weiwei’s work and how it has been inspired by the concept of freedom.
The impact, Haines said, was evident on those who took part in the exhibition, the visitors and the featured prisoners alike.
“We really have a shared experience here and it is doesn’t take much to reach out to someone to make a difference,” Haines said, “(or) the power of the simple gesture, as manifested by the visitors. That’s a small thing but it can make a big change.”
Indeed the film follows Haines around the world as she connects not only with Weiwei but with several of the prisoners featured in @ Large, including Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army soldier who spent years in prison after being found guilty of violations of the Espionage Act. Manning herself received hundreds of post cards from the @ Large exhibition, something she said in the film gave her hope in a time of despair.
Haines said, “In general it was a deeply moving experience to curate and realize, and that includes the de-installation. It was highly emotional, particularly because of the fact that nearly a million people saw it. I felt profoundly the spirit of the message and the courage of the people.”
Weiwei himself was a prisoner of conscience due to his outspoken views on the shortcomings of the Chinese government, so the topic hit close to home for the artist, who remains an activist and uses his art to raise awareness to the plights of the oppressed.
Haines can relate to the artist’s passion for justice.
“I think this film speaks to the notion that oppression is a global issue,” she said. “It’s far more pervasive that we are aware of and we really as global citizens should learn more.”
The director also hopes Weiwei’s message of courage in the face of adversity will inspire audiences, and ideally she would like “Yours Truly” to serve as an educational tool.
“I really would like this film to have a life in educational distribution. The children are our future and it’s important for them to see. This (project) has taught me so much about what’s important about being a public art curator and responsibility that comes with that.”
“Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly” will screen at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St, Nevada City. A question-and-answer session with Cheryl Haines will follow. This event is co-presented with the Nevada Theatre Film Series and Sierra Theatres.
Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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