Human Flow, the first feature-length documentary by famed artist Ai Weiwei, is best when it makes portraits. In one of the first scenes, Ai approaches Muhammed Hassan, a Syrian man who has just arrived ashore on the way to Salah ad-Din, a refugee camp in Iraq. Hassan accepts a cup of tea from Ai, then sits down and takes a long drag of his cigarette. He stares, unblinking, into the camera’s eye. His expression shifts from exhaustion, to determination, to uncertainty.

Released earlier this month, Human Flow is an unusual look at the global migrant crisis. It oscillates between large and small—aerial footage is paired with close-ups, statistics with personal stories—in order to convey not only the vast scale of what Ai calls a “human crisis,” but also to reach the individuals and their communities who have undergone, are undergoing, it. The film acts both as a monument to those who have experienced the ordeals of forced migration and as a call to action to those who haven’t.

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