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Behind the Scenes of Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly

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Courtesy of Cheryl Haines

"Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is a call to action, extending the incredible reach of Ai Weiwei’s art by asking viewers to take the issue of global human rights to heart and make a simple gesture that would profoundly touch those unjustly imprisoned worlds away."

Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is a bit of an accidental documentary. The director of the film (Cheryl Haines, in her debut behind the camera) had professionally known and worked with Ai for years and was the driving force behind the monumental @Large exhibition of artwork by Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island which became the genesis of the film. 

The art that Ai produced (from house arrest in Beijing) and that Cheryl and her team installed on Alcatraz centered on the urgent plight of the unjustly imprisoned in very trying conditions in some 22 countries, including our own. 

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Visitors were invited to learn about these courageous people of whom Ai created portraits (famously out of LEGOs) and to write postcards of support to them which were pre-addressed and then mailed.

Once Cheryl came to understand that these messages of support sent by visitors to the exhibition to prisoners of conscience had not only been getting through but that some of those incarcerated were actually responding, she realized something extraordinary had occurred. She had the idea for the documentary at that point and filming began in earnest. 

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Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly follows these postcards around the globe—from Alcatraz Island to Beijing, Washington, D.C., and Cairo—as former prisoners of conscience and the families of those still detained describe their impossible choices and the comfort they found, and still find in messages from people they would never meet. 

By the film’s end, Ai himself is finally free, seeing his own exhibit in public for the first time. He meets with former prisoner Chelsea Manning, while others who have been released, such as Egypt’s Arab Spring activist Ahmed Maher, express wonder at the connections Ai has initiated and the many strangers who sent encouraging messages. 

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Ultimately, Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is a call to action, extending the incredible reach of Ai Weiwei’s art by asking viewers to take the issue of global human rights to heart and make a simple gesture that would profoundly touch those unjustly imprisoned worlds away.

The making of this documentary was an act of discovery for the director and all the filmmakers involved. Having the support of Amnesty International was also integral to the project’s completion. Ultimately, the filmmakers hope that this documentary captures the remarkable power of art in our lives to inspire us to connect with each other. In this case, the simple expression on a postcard that someone has not been forgotten had a profound impact.


Christy McGill

Christy McGill is a documentary film producer, writer, creative director, and story consultant based in San Francisco. She is currently producing the feature documentary AI WEIWEI: YOURS TRULY (director, Cheryl Haines) which had its world premiere in April 2019 at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Her most recent project was as producer of the award-winning documentary feature SERENADE FOR HAITI (director, Owsley Brown, 2016.) Christy has consulted on a wide variety of films, advising during pre-production, story development, field production, post-production, release preparation, and distribution and promotion strategy.


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