The power of documentaries.
When Alison Klayman traveled to Beijing after graduating from Brown University in 2006, she had ambitions, but no concrete plans beyond learning Mandarin and tagging along on a friend’s family visit.
Yet within three years, Klayman, 28, had mastered the language, worked as a reporter for AP Television, National Public Radio and PBS, and was on her way to producing “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” her award-winning documentary that has been translated into over 25 languages and screened to audiences around the world.
The film, which won a Special Jury Prize in January 2012 at Sundance, documents the recent life of Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei, including his publication of the names of over 5,000 children who died in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008; his actions were an implicit critique of the Chinese government’s handling of building construction. (In Klayman’s film, the artist says, “Over 5,000 students died and they didn’t have to … You have to investigate if there was shoddy ‘tofu’ construction”). The film, which has helped to launch Ai Weiwei to international prominence, documents the repression and censorship he’s up against: the Chinese authorities have bulldozed his studio, beat him and incarcerated him.
Over the past 15 months, Klayman has appeared on “The Colbert Report” and CNN International and traveled throughout Europe as well as to Taiwan, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand and Israel screening the film. She has returned to China to visit with Ai Weiwei twice, including this March after his release from a three-month incarceration.
Were she and her family afraid for her to return?
“My parents value what Ai Weiwei has come to stand for,” she said. “Individual courage, the ability to speak truth to power — these are the values I was raised with.”
Homegirl: Klayman attended Jewish day schools in her hometown of Philadelphia. “There’s a probably a connection between my career and the fact that I went to grade and high school around this one little corner,” she says. She also put her education to use tutoring bat mitzvah students in Beijing. “Knowing where you come from is a good way to be secure and go into the world.”