Hot Docs 2019 Review: The Rest

by Andrew Parker

More of a companion piece and continuation of the work he did on his previous documentary, Human Flow, artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s The Rest isn’t any different from his last film, but that also might be what makes it so vital.

With The Rest, Weiwei turns his eye towards the continuing refugee crisis in the age of closed borders, increased bureaucracy, and rampant human rights abuses. Weiwei, himself no stranger to governmental suppression, sits down with refugees and shares their stories of immobility and frustration. Grieving families plead with local authorities to look for the bodies of children who drowned while making the dangerous crossing into Europe. Bodies of the dead wash upon the shores of the Mediterranean coast with stark regularity. Tent cities are erected at dead ends where migration to other countries becomes impossible due to protectionist border closings. Communities close their doors to migrants out of racist fears. As one young man from Syria puts the situation, he never would’ve left his homeland if he knew things were going to be this bad.

The Rest feels like bits and pieces that were cast off from Weiwei’s much longer Human Flow. It plays very much like a project that’s been made up of deleted scenes and threads from something larger, and less like a stand alone film. It’s not that The Rest doesn’t have some astounding sequences – like capturing a dangerous clash between increasingly angry refugees and Macedonian border guards or taking the supposedly progressive and proactive German government to task for their handling of migrants – but we’ve seen Weiwei make this film once before.

But the fact that Weiwei already did this same thing better the first time around doesn’t diminish the impact of The Rest. If this wasn’t still an issue, Weiwei wouldn’t have to make a film about it. Between Human Flow and The Rest, little to nothing has changed, and in many parts of the world, nationalism has made things far worse. Don’t be surprised if Weiwei makes another film about the same subject matter in the not too distant future.

Friday, April 26, 2019 – 6:30 pm – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema – Scotiabank Big Ideas Screening

Saturday, April 27, 2019 – 12:45 pm – Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 5 – 9:30 pm – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

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