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Coronation: See the haunting trailer for Ai Weiwei's movie about China's lockdown

The Chinese artist and activist directed and produced the documentary from Europe, with ordinary citizens in Wuhan providing footage. It's streaming now.


A medical worker gets disinfected, in footage from Coronation. 

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET
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The trailer for Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's surprise new documentary, Coronation, is less than a minute long, but that's more than enough time to convey the urgency of this spring's COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China. 

As foreboding, pulsating music plays, patients are unloaded from ambulances, health care workers rush down hospital corridors, corpses are placed on stretchers and medical workers in full protective suits stretch their arms out for full-body disinfection.  

Weiwei directed and produced the full-length documentary remotely from Europe, where the activist lives and works, and released it without warning last week. Paid crew and ordinary citizens in Wuhan provided footage, shot between January and April, that captures both the fear of a growing health crisis and the broader everyday experience of living in a country with tight government controls. 

Through interviews with patients and their families, as well as other ordinary citizens dealing with dramatically changed lives, the movie "examines the political specter of Chinese state control from the first to the last day of the Wuhan lockdown," a description for the film reads. "The film records the state's brutally efficient, militarized response to control the virus. Sprawling emergency field hospitals were erected in a matter of days, 40,000 medical workers were bused in from all over China, and the city's residents were sealed into their homes."

Ai Weiwei, a vocal critic of the Chinese government, often explores themes related to freedom, as with his series of Lego portraits of people silenced, imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations. He himself was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011 and forbidden from traveling outside China. In 2015, he was given a passport and permitted to travel abroad. He currently lives and works in Berlin. 

Coronation lasts just under two hours. It can be rented on Vimeo on Demand for $6(about£4.50, AU$8) and purchased for $18 (about £13.60 AU$25). It's available for the same price at Alamo on Demand