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Ai Weiwei releases documentary on Coronavirus lockdown in Wuhan


words by: Sahar Khraibani
Sep 3, 2020

In a pleasant twist of events, Ai Weiwei released a surprise documentary, chronicling Wuhan—the site of the first coronavirus outbreak, during the early days of the pandemic. 


This documentary comes at an especially poignant time: nine months since the Wuhan lockdown, and with much contention about China underplaying the severity of the virus. This is the kind of art that works itself into collective memory and history, because years down the line, historians will most likely rely on such films to tell what happened during this fateful year.


The film, titled Coronation, was released online and is available for digital rental through Alamo Drafthouse and Vimeo. The feature-length film is a firsthand look at how the pandemic unfolded in Wuhan, China. This was shot between January and April, where crew members as well as volunteers joined efforts to document what was missing from common media. We should warn you, the film contains shocking footage, but does an incredible job of portraying how biology, human error, and bureaucracy took a total on people’s lives in China—as well as around the world—in 2020. 


A lot of the footage is shot from above, as if it was done using drones and airplanes. A vacant Wuhan is portrayed: buildings and streets empty of people, no trains, or cars. The genius of Ai Weiwei makes the city look as though it is haunted, apocalyptic, and terrifying. 


For the most part, the film tries to portray regular people going about their regular business, or whatever has been deemed normal and regular during pandemic times. You can see medical workers in full hazmat suits, as well as people trying to cross barriers in tightly secured areas. Ai Weiwei also tackles the disinformation that was being disseminated by the government, while simultaneously tapping into an array of feeling, and muted boredom – a life under a pandemic in an era that is accustomed to life being high-speed. 


This film makes what seems to be banal an absolutely fascinating thing to watch. It is a little “too close to the wound,” portraying something that we are still living through well into the fall of 2020, but it is worth your time and is a documentary that will make it into our collective histories. Head over to Vimeo to watch it for yourself.



Photo via Ai Weiwei