Human Flow (2017)

A- SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

A little over a month ago, Pope Francis launched a two-year campaign on behalf of migrants and refugees called “Share the Journey” — sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA — seeking to promote understanding of the millions of displaced persons fleeing war, persecution and poverty.

Pope Francis wants to promote what he has often called a “culture of encounter.” In the context of “Share the Journey,” a culture of encounte means getting to know migrants and refugees as persons and not just politically charged abstractions in the news. More broadly, the “Share the Journey” website encourages us to “share their journey by walking with them in prayer and support.”

Directed by Ai Weiwei.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value


Age Appropriateness

Teens & Up

MPAA Rating


Caveat Spectator

A disturbing image of a murdered child; references to ethnic cleansing, rape, etc.

Watching Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow in theaters or on Amazon streaming is not a substitute for getting to know migrants and refugees. One cannot foster or participate in a culture of encounter merely by watching a film.

A documentary can, though, promote understanding and help viewers begin to perceive the individual stories behind the political debates. Those open to walking with displaced persons “in prayer and support” may find watching Human Flow an aid to these goals. It could even lead to more openness to a culture of encounter in the full sense.

Overhead drone footage offers impressionistic images of desperation and suffering abstracted as geometry and physics. Wordless tracking shots through bombed-out urban landscapes remind us that life in tent cities facing closed borders is not the natural condition of the displaced masses.

The film begins with thousands of refugees plucked by United Nations’ rescue teams from the Aegean Sea and bundled into tent cities on the Greek island of Lesvos. Over the next 140 minutes, Ai takes us to Bangladesh, Kenya, Iraq, Israel, France, the United States, Mexico and others — a total of 23 countries and more than 40 refugee camps.

Worldwide, more than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, more than at any time since the Second World War. Millions now live in refugee camps, often in appalling conditions. Far more live in urban environments, where they may lack basic services, including access to health care and education.

If the global refugee crisis seems like too immense a problem to wrap one’s head around, Ai isn’t interested in narrowing his focus. Going for scope over depth, Human Flow isn’t a definitive study of the problem, but it offers an incomparable starting point for further discussions.