Ai Weiwei Teams Up with eBay and Public Art Fund on Exclusive Sale for World Refugee Day

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Radical Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has teamed up with New York non-profit Public Art Fund and eBay to launch an exclusive sale of his work in honor of World Refugee Day. From his recent Good Fences Make Good Neighbors exhibition in New York City, the artist has selected six remarkable portraits of global refugees that will be sold exclusively through eBay, starting today. With all profits going to charity, the limited edition prints are selling for $750 each, and will be available until June 27 (or until they sell out).

Originally launched in October 2017, Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors was inspired by the current immigration crisis, made all the more pertinent by this week’s news showcasing the way minors have been separated from their parents, and kept in horrible conditions at different United States border crossings.

The exhibition featured 300 portraits taken by the artist at 40 different global refugee camps, and were hung as banners on lampposts throughout New York City. The six images selected by Ai WeiWei and the Public Art Fund for sale on eBay, include a portrait of feminist activist Emma Goldman and current refugees photographed at the Shariya Camp in Iraq.

 

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Ai Weiwei has long been an outspoken social activist who uses various mediums, including photography, installation, sculpture and film, to make subversive statements about politics and the current climate. Public Art Fund is a New York City non-profit “dedicated to providing free access to the most important art of our time” by “bringing dynamic contemporary art to the broadest possible audiences.” Through public art exhibitions, like Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, the organization examines the ways in which we interact and appreciate art.

 

In honor of World Refugee day, the two have partnered with eBay for Charity, a special program on the international e-commerce giant that allows sellers to donate all funds to charities of their choice. Following the company’s recent collaboration with Warren Buffet, which raised over $3M for disenfranchised communities in San Francisco, the Ai Weiwei sale will support the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which offers health, safety, education and economic aid to communities that have been destroyed by conflict, and USA for UNHCR, a Washington D.C. non-profit that protects and helps refugees who have been displaced by violence or persecution.

 

Every June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day to support, honor and raise awareness for the millions of refugees across this globe — and this year, it couldn’t have come at a better time. To celebrate (and get an amazing piece of art in the process), buy your limited edition Ai Weiwei portrait, here.

 

Photos courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

What Art To See In New York, Los Angeles + London April 14-20

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Ai Weiwei photographed by Gao Yuan, 2012

Monday, April 14

Christo makes a rare public appearance at Neuehouse (we assume you’re a member) in New York to speak about Over the River and The Mastaba, two projects of the artist. A tour of Neuehouse’s art collection precedes the talk at 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday, April 15

Jean Nouvel’s Triptyques opens at Gagosian Gallery in London with a reception from 6-8 p.m. 17-19 Davies Street, London.

Thursday, April 17

Julian Schnabel’s View of Dawn in the Tropics: Paintings, 1989-1990 opens at Gagosian Gallery in New York with a reception from 6-8 p.m. 555 West 24th Street, New York.

Henri Matisse’s blue nudes are back together at the Tate Modern in London. The Cut-Outs exhibition opens Thursday. Museum hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bankside, London.

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Friday, April 18

Ai Weiwei’s According to What? exhibition opens at the Brooklyn Museum. Tickets are $15; the show is free for members.

Saturday, April 19

Thomas Ruff’s Photograms and Negatives opens at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills with a reception from 6-8 p.m. 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, California.

Get Out Of My Wei!

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Leave it to Brooklyn to create a support group for the repressed, the captive, the downtrodden. Maybe Brooklynites feel a kinship with repressed souls from being stuck underground for too long waiting on the G train.

But really, all jokes aside, nearly one hundred passionate protestors gathered at New York’s Brooklyn Museum on Thursday night to show support for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and other free spirited thinkers who have been censored by the Chinese government. Weiwei has been barred from traveling abroad since his release from detention in 2011, though it hasn’t stopped the artist from putting on a museum show (his first) in Brooklyn.

The night  finalized with an endearing video message from Ai Weiwei himself. In the video, along with his work, Weiwei puts emphasis on the importance of free expression and a society that works together to foster creativity while challenging authority. Seems like a beautiful remedy that is perfectly poised to piss off the Chinese government.

A Smashing Good Time In Miami (Ai Weiwei Edition)

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When Ai Weiwei smashed a few vases in the ’90s, they were value-laden symbols of China’s dynastic past, and the destruction was captured in photographic form as an artwork. Fast-forward nearly two decades, and one of Weiwei’s own vases (estimated to be worth $1 million) is on display in Miami’s Pérez Art Museum (a stunningly handsome new building designed by Herzog & de Meuron). A man with a grudge walks into the museum. He picks up one of Ai Weiwei’s ceramic pieces, and then drops it on the floor, where it inevitably breaks into many pieces. This wasn’t a butter-fingered tourist with boundary issues; it was Dominican-born artist Maximo Caminero, who, as the Guardian reports, wrecked havoc in order to “protest the museum’s lack of local artist displays.”

Caminero certainly isn’t the first person to realize that he can walk into a museum and make headlines by doing something stupid. (Remember the Rothko-defacing geniuses beyond the Yellowist movement?) Ai Weiwei himself was not amused. “The argument does not support the act,” he told the New York Times. “It doesn’t sound right. His argument doesn’t make much sense. If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him.”

The art-attack is also a bit pig-headed, especially considering the Miami museum’s focus on work from Latin America. (Destroying a vase made by a Chinese artist smacks a bit of a “Miami museums for Miami artists, you foreigner!” attitude, and sort of ignores the globalized nature of the art world that most people have gotten used to by now). As for Mr. Caminero’s own oeuvre, I leave it to you to determine if his paintings deserve to ever hang at the Pérez, though I’m guessing he’s probably on their blacklist by now.

UPDATE: An unrelated press release sent out by the museum now makes Caminero look even more like an asshole, rather than an activist. “Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) will present a solo exhibition of new works by Haitian-born, Miami-based artist Edouard Duval-Carrié from March 13 to August 31, 2014. Generated over the past year, Imagined Landscapes features a series of mural-sized paintings and chandeliers, conceived as a single installation, depicting lush tropical scenes executed entirely in black and silver glitter. The exhibition will open with a conversation between Duval Carrié and PAMM Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander on March 13, 2014 at 7pm” [emphasis added].

 

Ai Weiwei Making a Heavy Metal Album

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His powerful sculptures landed him in hot water with authorities in his native China, and now, Ai Weiwei is trying out a different kind of heavy metal. Having worked with sculpture as well as audiovisual art, the artist and activist is planning on recording a heavy metal album called Shen Qu, or “Divine Comedy.” The Dante and Heaven/Hell motifs make for pretty excellent heavy metal concept album fodder, if not a little well-worn, but either way, props to Ai for doing his homework.

The artist told The Guardian his interest in testing the musical waters came from his 81-day stint in jail, where he realized his lack of musical knowledge outside of Chinese revolutionary songs. Consultants on the album will include Chinese rock artist Zuoxiao Zuzhou as well as one of his marquee supporters from the pop music world, Elton John, for whom he made a video. Material will include a song called “The Great Firewall of China,” about the country’s Internet censorship. It will probably not include a cover of “Holy Diver,” as sweet as that has the potential to be.

Ai isn’t a stranger to using popular music as his medium, however. He did do that amazing “Gangnam Style” video, perhaps the only “Gangnam Style” parody the world actually really needed. Let’s revisit that below.

A Brief Assessment of the Disney Options on Netflix Instant

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In a move that was hailed as a “game-changer” and a company saving grace and probably some other hyperbolic PR-type language, and much to the delight of subscribers nostalgic for a lost youth, Netflix will begin streaming Disney movies on its Instant Watch service. The bulk will be available in 2016, but a handful of titles are already available for your hung-over viewing or emergency activities if you ever find yourself in charge of a bunch of kids for a prolonged amount of time. But is it enough to get hyped about now?

At least two-thirds of the “Disney” page on Netflix Instant consists of the tween films and TV-to-feature-length adaptations that I know absolutely nothing about and therefore cannot assess, which makes sense because this decision was clearly made for Disney’s actual demographic and not young professionals in deep nostalgia K-holes. There’s also a pretty large collection of Air Bud sequels (and yet, not the original): Seventh Inning Fetch, World Pup, Air Bud Spikes Back—did you even know they made an Air Bud sequel about volleyball? Because they did. And you can watch it, and if you pitch it to the right Internet content place and make GIFs of it, they will probably pay you money to do that. Sequels make up the bulk of the collection, actually—you’ll find The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars, but not The Brave Little Toaster

“But what about the films of my youth?” you ask. “What about the ones with the songs I can still recite?” The handful of Disney Vault-grade animated features mostly predate that hot streak the studio had in the early ‘90s, so you’ve got The Rescuers Down Under (but not The Rescuers), Pocahontas, The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective, which features Vincent Price as an evil rat professor, so that’s pretty alright.

The selection of the old-school ‘classics’ is slim, with the still lovely and frightening Alice and Wonderland, The Aristocats (not to be confused with a less safe for children movie) and Dumbo, which will launch many a good, cathartic cry-fest for old time’s sake, at least among people who can watch the movie without being bothered by all the insane and now super obvious cartoon racism happening. Outside of the “traditional” Disney animated sphere, the most exciting options are The Nightmare Before Christmas (at least among your ex-Hot Topic-goth classmates), the pretty-underrated James and the Giant Peach and The Muppet Movie.

Of course, if you’re in the mood for something of more mature taste less nostalgia-happy, the Netflix Instant ‘recently added’ section includes other things worth watching that aren’t from the Walt Disney animation house. If live-action nostalgia is more of your thing, Flashdance, Half-Baked and Bad Boys II (because in this day and age, I’m not going to be totally surprised if someone is nostalgic for a movie that was released less than a decade ago), and more recent critical favorites like The King’s Speech and the underappreciated Young Adult. And O.B.A.M. Nude, which of all the bizarre presidential slam jobs that made it into actual film festivals, seems just about the most bizarre, so if you’re one of those people that searches subscription film-streaming sites for movies that destroyed political careers, here you go. 

Here Is A Video of Ai Weiwei Dancing To “Gangnam Style”

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The last thing the world needed was another "Gangnam Style" parody, but what it did need and perhaps didn’t know it needed was a "Gangnam Style" parody from Ai Weiwei. As it turns out, the occasionally irreverent, never apologetic artist and activist, in addition to being a talented and incisive (if a bit goofy) social commentator, also has killer dance moves. For his latest endeavor, Ai released his own fairly spot-on interpretation of the wildly popular video for Korean rapper Psy’s international megahit “Gangnam Style.”

Ai dances frenetically through Psy’s now-ubiquitous choreography, taking scenes directly from the "Gangnam Style" video (including one where he prances through a horse stable) — there was a rumor for all of five seconds that Psy actually stopped by his Beijing studio to teach him the dance, although given Psy’s itinerary and a lack of evidence, this probably didn’t happen. (But it would be cool if it had!) Ai’s interpretation is actually a pretty relevant reminder, too, given how few people, especially Western listeners, are probably getting all the cultural context and Psy’s actual riffing on the ultra-wealthy district of Seoul that gives the song its name and how many just take the silliness at face value. Anyway, it’s great. Watch, and then proceed to roll your eyes at all the ill-conceived (and potentially offensive) Psy costumes you see this Halloween. 

Director Alison Klayman on Her Debut Film, ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’

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In 2008, Alison Klayman was a recent college graduate living in China who agreed to help her friend make a short video accompanying a photo exhibition. Four years later, that short video has flourished into a full-length feature, documenting the work of one of the most prolific, controversial, and internationally known artists today. Her documentary film debt, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry blends the world of art and journalism as she gives the world a close look at Chinese artist/journalism/activist, Ai Weiwei. We chatted with Klayman about getting up close with Ai Weiwei, the limits of filming her subject, and what she hopes the audience gains from the film.

This is your first feature. How has it been promoting the film and seeing everyone’s reaction to it?
First of all, it’s definitely been as much a learning experience as any other part of making this film in the sense that I had no idea this whole stage in the process of distribution existed. I wish I could forget it right now so that the next time I make a film, I’m not thinking about this part of it; it was really nice that I had no idea. It’s a total privilege and thrill to be bringing the movie around and to share Ai Weiwei’s story. The real take-away for audiences is really to be inspired and to feel challenged about what, personally, should they do with their voice and what should they risk. There are some difficult things in this film, but I think ultimately the response is optimistic. Art and the internet really are powerful tools for our time, and if Weiwei can do what he does in China, what should I be doing? I think that’s very cool.

Your background was in journalism. Did you know you wanted to crossover into documentary films?
I was always interested in doing documentary films. When I graduated college in 2006, I did a lot of radio journalism, interned at NPR, and worked as a news anchor and produced different shows. I did a student short documentary in college, but I had never studied anything like that. And so my plan for how I was going to achieve all this started with going abroad. I ended up going to China after I graduated because my friend, who I did the student film with, had family in Shanghai. She was going and graciously allowed me to tag along.

So your choice to go there had nothing to do with politics initially?
I find it funny because it’s important to be totally honest about how this happened. I always say—not to make it sound like I had no clue about anything, but it’s more like having an open attitude—the truth is, if she had family from somewhere else, I might have ended up tagging along with her on a trip to, like, Latvia, but would I have stayed for four years and made a documentary? I don’t know. It was an incredible choice of a place to go. But I can’t take credit for thinking, China is the future so I should go there. I spent the whole summer reading a million books about China and I remember thinking if I could ever know this place well enough to contribute something to what’s out there in terms of reporting and books. But how does anybody do that? I remember that feeling. You just start by learning the language, having adventures, and seeing what the place is about.

How did you meet Ai Weiwei?
Again by a fantastic stroke of luck. My roommate, with whom I lived in Beijing in 2008, was curating an exhibition of his photographs for the gallery that she worked for. It was actually his photographs from the decade he lived in New York in the 1980s, which was as much a sort of historical archival task as it was an art curation. There were 10,000 photographs from this period in his life and she’d bring her work home with her and tell me about him and I would look through all the images and see all the protest images, Chinese artists hanging out, doing laundry, making art. It was incredibly captivating, and that body of work really helped so many more people understand him. Toward the end of the year my roommate said it would be really great to have a video to accompany the show and see how these photos were taken and to give a little more background. I had just bought a camera and she was like, Would you like to do the video? I had to go with the gallery team one morning to Weiwei’s studio and was introduced as the person who was making the video, so I was just kind of given this opportunity to not only meet him but also the license to be filming him. I never had to pitch myself or convince him. And he did like it, so I’m sure that did play some role in why he let me continue on.

What was your initial impression of him when you first met? Was he as you expected?
My initial impression was that he has a very commanding presence. I’ve worked on movie sets with Jackie Chan and Jet Lee and some famous Chinese actresses, and I found something not too dissimilar in terms that he’s sort of a big deal and has an entourage, but obviously it was in a very different context. I also saw that he has a really great sense of humor and likes to keep things, when he can, light and keep people at ease and himself entertained. At the same time, I was forewarned and I could see how it was possible if he didn’t like, for example, an interviewer that came along; he could be very intimidating and make an interviewer cry if he wanted to. I didn’t have an agenda in the questions I asked, and I genuinely didn’t know what the answer was to, like, “How are you so fearless? Why do you do the things you do?” We did get along really well.

How did you decide to make it a full feature?
Those initial couple weeks that I was filming for the purpose of this gallery show, we were covering so many things that didn’t fit into that assignment and talking about censorship in his blog and the ills of contemporary China. I remember talking to my parents and trying to explain this guy and saying I have all this material that I’m not going to get to use and I hope I get to use it.  I started to film more of his art, and I wanted to get those kind of personal family moments.

Was he open to letting you into his world?
I feel like I took cues from him that it was okay to keep going. The idea that I was really doing a feature film was almost acknowledged it first because he introduced me to someone as, “Oh that’s Alison, she’s making a documentary about me, she’s been filming for a long time.” After he did that I was like, “We can have that conversation—so I’m making a documentary, what expectations do you have?” Maybe there are instances where people make a documentary film where the subject isn’t doing a million interviews a day and directing their own camera crews and so they’re focused a little more on what the documentary filmmaker is doing with them. For me, it was nice; he really just let me show up, he wasn’t micromanaging what I was doing ever, and if I suddenly never showed up, he’d just be like, I wonder what happened to that girl? I think we had very little expectations for what the project was going to end up being. I talked to him on the phone two weeks ago and he was just, I think, marveling at how big this has gotten because it certainly was not what we expected. I know he wasn’t letting me be around because he thought this film is going to reach a lot of people—he already does so many things that reach so many people, so he wasn’t looking for an outlet. I think he really was just gracious enough to let me be around.

Did he ever ask you to stop filming?
It took me a long time to where he would let me film him with his son. I thought I would have to do the same thing to his mom, but I lucked out and she came to the house one day when I was there. I thought that might be something that I had to fight for; I got to meet her and, as soon as she was standing by herself, I ran over and started asking her questions because I wasn’t sure if he would then tell me later [not to]. The only time I can remember him saying [not to film] was if he was talking with someone about. So he was also aware that not everyone needs to be filmed all the time.

You did a really great job of being informative and telling his story, but there was a lot of heart to it and it was entertaining to watch. What did you gain the most out of meeting him and the whole process?
I definitely feel like I’ve been given solid proof of the power of art and cultural production to really have an impact of people’s ideas and outlook on life. I’ve been thinking about other artists, entertainers, comedians who are helping to try and push things forward and show a different view on the world and articulate that in an entertaining way. There’s one thing he told me that always stuck with me; he once told me a story about an instance where one of his videographers was in a situation where the police were stopping him from filming, and Weiwei asked, “When things were happening, did you take your camera out, did you get any footage?” And the guy said, “No, I was really worried that they were going to take the camera so I didn’t take it out.” And Weiwei said, “Well when that happens, it’s as if they already took it, if you’re not going to try, it’s like they already took your camera in the first place.” I feel like, for me, as someone who wants to do journalism and documentary film, that’s the ultimate lesson. If you don’t speak out because you’re afraid of something happening to you, then they’ve already silenced you. 

‘Death by China’ and ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’: Two Call-To-Action Documentaries

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Ai Weiwei is the internationally artist, prankster, architect, sculptor, photographer, social and cultural critic, curator, internet agitator and Twitter activist who was arrested by Chinese authorities and held for over three months in 2011 after a life-time of government harassment and a childhood filled with memories of his father’s own persecution the very same year he was short-listed for Time’s “Person of the Year.” His arrest caused a world-wide fervor, especially since Weiwei had been blogging and Twitter-documenting this pestering, stalking, annoyances, and, finally, in the span of a few year’s time- his eventual beating, house arrest, video spying, studio razing and eventual imprisonment by the Chinese government.

Here is a truly gifted artist going beyond the actual confines of his talent, to risk his life, literally, to make China a place where his toddler son may be truly safe to grow up inside of. And the beautiful thing is, as this masterful, all-access documentary by American journalist Alison Klayman demonstrates in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Weiwei is slowly igniting the fuse that Communist China desperately wants to be seen snuffed out at all costs, among all walks of its people living in the “Republic.” And others are learning how, when and where to light it, emboldened by Wei and other fellow activists and artists. They have made this great discovery and followed them, mainly, online.

The film starts in Weiwei’s sparse, grounded, spacious concrete studio. There, Weiwei entertains a mélange of playful cats, young, bold Chinese volunteers and activists who are busy making phone calls and emailing away as Weiwei prepares for two major art shows simultaneously- one at the prestigious Tate Museum in London. (“I am asking everyone for their ideas,” he jokes pseudo-playfully, procrastination showing as the shows’ openings loom close by.)

We learn about his varied projects and his hands-off, punk rock attitude towards the Chinese government (a series of photographs encourages others to express the sentiment “Fuck the Homeland,” middle-finger raised in anger, Weiwei’s gentle, Mona Lisa smile playing upon his lips.) Much of Wei’s art is conceptual, and he has other artists and artisans doing the actual construction, although a friend and fellow artist assures us on-camera that Weiwei can build anything. One project was an Internet list of over four thousand names of young students killed in the Sichuan earthquake, because of poor school construction, the Chinese authorities never admitting this fact.

We learn about his family’s life-long persecution, how he spent many of his adolescent years alongside his father, slaving away in a labor camp. Klayman shows Weiwei’s bohemian youth when he lived in Manhattan during the eighties, how New York shaped his artistic sensibilities while allowing himself to feel what being this free really meant, and what it trulyfelt like.

It is completely enlivening to see an actual revolutionary at work, and, it must be said, having that person fulfill your grandest expectations to the utmost. Weiwei comes across a strange mixture of Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Andy Warhol, and the Dalai Lama—a pretty tall order, and the perfect concoction to make one an international icon. But the artist who helped design and then thoroughly denounce his own Olympic “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing, after accusing the government of ousting the locals and forcing “smiles” and happiness on the faces of miserable Chinese citizens, Weiwei is shown to us by the director full of the great contradictions only a true artist can endure with any panache. He has both a loving wife and mistress by his side, a profound fear and courage about his own activism (often expressed by him in the very same sentence,) and the conflicting love/hate feelings about his origin and birthplace.

The most riveting part of the film is how Ai Weiwei uses the internet to not only engage the world about China’s profound corruption and truly vile disrespect of its own people, the environment and certainly the Chinese quality of life, but how often and where, and with what great courage, efficiency, savvy and provocation. When Chinese police beat Ai Weiwei after forcing themselves into his hotel room, Ai manages to actually catch it on video with his cell. We get to see it, too, along with the rest of the world, who first saw it first on his Twitter feed. (The Chinese government eventually blacked and disabled Ai’s active blog.) Ai suffered a brain hemorrhage from this single, near-devastating blow to the head. And, in a way, so does every Western viewer suffer a hearty blow: It makes every complaining, niggling little thing you ever said aloud or wondered about the Internet disappear into thin air. And makes you treasure the gift of free speech in a way you will never forget.

China makes another devastating appearance in a truly life-changing, mouth-dropping documentary film, Peter Navarro’s Death by China, after his book by the same name. Narrated by Martin Sheen, (when is he going to President, by the way?), produced, written and directed by Navarro, the film grabs you by the throat and never lets go, and your mind simply reels along with it. Compiled so a sixth grader could understand Chinese-American trade relations, yet literally packed with frightening information, the film explores our dependency on goods made exclusively in China, the soon-to-be-death of US manufacturing, and a government that is so corrupt, so uncaring, so authoritarian- to call them dictators almost gives them too much credit. What we have here is a nation that is making US middle citizens mere custodians (with their consumerism and few remain corporate jobs) to giant, multi-national US corporations.

Yes, we have heard this all before, and, naturally, it is quite easy to pass from logic into hysteria over this very fiery issue. But watch this movie, and you will, in turn, start glowing with a newfound, hit-on-your-head awareness. It’s so simple, it seems almost stupid: How do Republicans, conservatives, Democrats, any CEO, Board of Directors, thinking American, really-justify turning over the manufacture of their goods to a purely (no matter how anyone spins it) and deeply communist country? The film also highlights how our jobs and livelihoods are now decidedly and continuously shipped overseas by American companies (both gargantuan and mid-sized), as we continue our over-spending and shopping at Walmart, Costco, Apple….a list that is endless and scary in its comprehension. Did you know, for example, that not a single brand of cell phone or laptop is made in the US any longer? As the wife of one of the interviewees points out, it is impossible to find a microwave, nor a single household good that is not “Made in China.” We are reminded, of course and more than once, that it was Bill Clinton who pushed the signing of the World Trade Organization’s agreement with

China. But this film is going way beyond partisan lines here. In Death by China, we are all guilty, every single last, iPhone-toting, HD-watching, 99Cent Store-slumming one of us. “You have to choose between your company or your country!” decries proud Brian O’Shaughnessy, Chairman of the still standing, US-based Revere Copper. The film opens August 17. Miss it if you dare.