Ai Weiwei releases “Coronation” – a documentary on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan

Ai Weiwei releases “Coronation” – a documentary on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan
Source: Ai; Photo by Gao Yuan

Contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has released a brand-new documentary, “Coronation,” detailing the beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. Directed remotely by Weiwei, who is currently living in Cambridge, United Kingdom, the 113-minute documentary was filmed by dozens of amateur filmmakers and volunteers in Wuhan whom Ai hired to covertly gather footage.

Lockdown begins in Wuhan

The documentary shows citizens of Wuhan living in extraordinary times, portraying how various families were affected once the city went into lockdown on January 23 of this year. Wuhan, with a population of 11 million people, has become normal and stable again with no new cases since May.

However, the purpose of the film – outlined in a statement by the filmmakers – was to show “the Chinese crisis management and social control machine – through surveillance, ideological brainwashing and brute determination to control every aspect of society.”

Although the 63-year-old artist has found himself in some legal troubles over his art and criticism of the Chinese government, which led him to leave the country in 2015, the documentary showcases an unbiased perspective of what China did right, and what it did wrong to cope with the pandemic.

The documentary shows how quickly China handled the situation – building massive coronavirus hospitals, deploying roving sanitation-fogging robots, implementing a tight and strict testing protocol and engineering cautious safety measures for its health workers.

However, the documentary also sheds light on the crushing bureaucracy from Chinese politicians, through its totalitarian decision making and absence of civic communication. Furthermore, the film demonstrates how the citizens of Wuhan were succumbed to and were deceived by the Chinese government.

Telling the story

In an interview with The New York Times, Ai revealed that the most difficult footage to obtain was footage of the intensive care units, and he stated that he received more than 500 hours worth of footage from Wuhan.

Hoping to screen the film at a film festival, Ai Weiwei was instead forced to release the documentary digitally, through Vimeo On Demand and Alamo on Demand streaming services after festivals like the New York Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival and Venice Film Festival declined to screen the film, despite showing interest initially. Ai also pitched to release the documentary on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but they ultimately declined, which Weiwei suggests was due to their wanting to maintain business relationships with China.
“Coronation” is available to rent or purchase on Alamo Drafthouse’s streaming service in the United States or Vimeo’s streaming service internationally. 100% of the revenue received from the documentary through Alamo Drafthouse will be donated to the Alamo Family Fund.

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