The dissident artist, refugee in Europe since 2015, wishes to show, with Coronation, the daily life of the inhabitants of the city, held to strict containment and severe government measures.
“The Chinese leaders knew what was happening several months before Wuhan was quarantined, but they decided to cover up the truth”. In his Portuguese house, near Lisbon, Ai Weiwei is serene despite the virulence of his words. The Chinese artist has recently been living there, in “A house in the middle of nature”, where he lives with his partner and his three cats.
This sixty-three-year-old plastic activist, author of the documentary Coronation and which relates to the beginnings of the pandemic in Wuhan, tells, via zoom, the genesis of his project in the columns of the Sunday newspaper . Images shot from the inside, by his former fellow citizens, while they were confined there.
“I was in contact with friends from Wuhan who told me about their days in strict confinement. I suggested that they film themselves to bear witness to their daily life ”, explains the artist who arrived in Europe in 2015. “In 2003, when I was still living in China, I shot a short film, Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, with my brother on the SARS epidemic ” and who used the same process. Regarding this project, fifteen people were initially volunteers. To these, Ai Weiwei sent compact Osmo Pocket cameras. Finally, other participants joined in, filming using their smartphones. Especially since the wearing of the mask was able to guarantee the protagonists a certain anonymity. “It freed them, they were no longer afraid of reprisals, he says. However, a man was harassed by the authorities after the filming because he had dared to denounce the way he fought to recover the ashes of his father who died of Covid-19. Another unfortunately committed suicide by hanging from a tree, overwhelmed by poverty and depression ”.
From start to finish, no commentary. He believes that the images are sufficient on their own: “Coronation shows what happened in Wuhan without passing judgment. I had three hundred hours of recording. The stories were so strong that I didn’t feel the need to add a voiceover. ” The images that reach him are, he says, chilling and differ from those shown on the news: “Doctors in intensive care units who superimposed layers of protection on home deliveries, with people barricaded in their homes, the gates of their buildings padlocked so they wouldn’t go out. They accepted it without flinching. Today, 80% of the population [chinoise, N.D.L.R] believes that communism is the solution, even young people. I recognize the power of the Chinese state and its efficiency in executing its decisions without giving any place to consent. ”
Ai Weiwei knows what he is talking about: the son of a poet sent to a re-education camp for having criticized the regime, exiled during his childhood before returning and establishing himself as one of the major artists of independent Chinese culture, he is considered by Beijing as an enemy of the people. In 2011, he spent a few months in prison and was deprived of a passport for four years, before fleeing the country. Find the Middle Empire? He doesn’t think about it: “My eighty-eight-year-old mother forbids me to do so. She refuses that I go back to prison! I left my country forever. ” The price to pay to be able to continue the fight. And the health crisis offers him the opportunity to point out the excesses of China. “A scientist has established that traces of the disease were detected in September 2019! If the authorities had warned the WHO, perhaps the situation would have been different. It took a year and 2.5 million victims before they accepted the presence of investigators ”, protests the plastic surgeon.
According to him, the film promises to show the world the inside of China’s iron fist. He encountered a problem, however, and not the least: that of the distribution of his film. Currently available on the Apple TV + platform, Coronation was first refused by major festivals, in Venice, Toronto or New York. The cause ? The absence of the “seal of the dragon”, a logo signifying the validation of the Chinese propaganda department and authorizing its release in theaters. “The festivals remain markets, I think they wanted above all to avoid offending the government and depriving themselves of the money from China!”, says the artist, who still plans other film projects including one on the Rohingya refugees from Burma in Bangladesh. “I submitted it to the Cannes Film Festival selection committee, I want to try my luck», He explains to the JDD. Before specifying that his other film is about the protests in Hong Kong …
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