Yesterday, the Sundance audience (as requested by filmmaker Alison Klayman) saluted Ai Weiwei with their middle finger. The motion is a tribute to the artist’s well-known “Finger” series.

Yesterday, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” was award the US Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The in-depth documentary follows the life of one of the world’s most renowned and provocative artists over the last few years as he has been catapulted into news headlines.

Since 2008, Ai Weiwei has been the subject of one controversy after another. His objections to China’s handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and his blog that documented the truth about the tragedy was the first major event to attract serious government scrutiny. The same year Ai was critical of China’s 2008 Olympic propaganda during a time when the country was sensitive to foreign perceptions. Since then he has taken to the internet, particularly Twitter, to criticize the Chinese authorities and bypass local media control. In 2011, China’s official discomfort with the artist reached new heights when the authorities demolished what they claim was his “illegal” studio in Shanghai and his April 3 arrest — and eventual parole —  for supposed tax evasion.

Hyperallergic attended a special screening of segments of the film and we can report that the stories that are told give a rich and varied picture of the artist, his world and his passion for reform in China. The film doesn’t seek to hide the inconvenient realities of his life — for instance, it touches upon the fact that the Chinese artist recently had a child with a woman other than his wife — but  hurls the viewer into his inner circle and his many confrontations with authority. The film follows the artist around the world and talks to him about his formative year’s in New York as a largely unknown artist.

Wired spoke to the filmmaker at the festival and she had this to say:

“Weiwei’s whole life is his creative practice … While he knows the difference between a museum piece and a tweet, he also understands that, to update McLuhan, the artist is the message.”!/AWWNeverSorry/status/163466426848514049

While at the podium receiving her award, Klayman asked the audience at Sundance to give her the middle finger so that she could capture the moment for Ai Weiwei. The image above is the result. To see the audience’s perspective, click here. And this was what the filmmaker tweeted before she took to the stage.

The Salt Lake Tribune Sundance blog summarized the context for the image:

Alison Klayman, receiving a special jury prize for her documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” asked the audience to flip the bird to her camera – for a photo she planned to send to Ai Weiwei, the dissident Chinese artist. “He’ll be seeing that,” she said.

Here is the tweet with pic from the filmmaker’s personal Twitter account:!/aliklay/status/163465630958358528

And what Ai Weiwei responded:!/aliklay/status/163469354288156673

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.