At its core is the tension between Ai's artful determination to prod the Chinese government toward greater openness, and the authorities' progressively more belligerent attempts to intimidate him into silence.
"He's human, and that's what I hope the film shows," said Klayman, who grew up here. "He is just a person who is vulnerable and fragile and is taking a risk. He's unwilling to let fear keep him silent."
There were times in China when Klayman wondered if this was the day police would come knocking on her door. She wasn't afraid for herself. Any physical danger to her, as an accredited foreign journalist, was minimal.
She was afraid for Ai. The government could make him disappear.
And for a while, it did.
Ai was stopped at the Beijing airport last year and held for 81 days without charges, mostly in solitary confinement, then placed under house arrest on charges of "economic crimes."
Authorities have at different times shut down his blog, barred him from travel, bulldozed his studio, and beaten him up. His months in custody left him shaken and temporarily, uncharacteristically silent.
Klayman grew up in Wynnewood, attending the Solomon Schechter Day School and Akiba Hebrew Academy (now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), and playing on the basketball team.
She graduated from Brown University in 2006 with a degree in history, a background in student radio, and a desire to see the world. When plans for other countries fell through, she headed to China.
She thought she might try to become a journalist, and maybe someday make a documentary, though all she knew of China came from crash-course reading. She finished Peter Hessler's seminal Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present as her plane was heading to Shanghai.
In China she found abundant freelance reporting work. A friend suggested that, to gain experience, she should take a no-pay job making a video to go with an exhibition of Ai's photographs. Klayman kept shooting even after that exhibition opened, in 2009.
All the while, Ai was becoming more outspoken - and more troublesome to the government.
He helped design the iconic Olympic stadium known as the Bird's Nest, but criticized the 2008 Beijing Olympics as Communist Party propaganda. Key scenes in the movie revolve around his criticism of the government's handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 70,000.
As it became clear that huge numbers of children had been crushed in shoddily built government school buildings, Chinese authorities deemed the official tally a state secret - and harassed parents who sought accountability.
Ai helped lead a movement to uncover the names of all the students who died, and published a list of 5,212 a year after the quake.
While he was in Sichuan's capital of Chengdu to support a local earthquake activist, police entered his hotel room and assaulted him. He later underwent brain surgery in Germany, where he had traveled to create a giant outdoor installation made of children's school backpacks. The different colored bags were arranged to spell, "She lived happily for seven years in this world," the words of a mother whose child had died.
The party has dealt with Ai mostly through bullying, steps that could be taken without severely damaging China's world standing.
"There are almost certainly voices within the Party who say, 'How do we manage this? Don't make him a martyr. Don't make him a pretext for other people to organize in China. But at the same time, prevent him from organizing people in China," said Avery Goldstein, director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ai's treatment could quickly worsen, Goldstein said, if the party perceives him as a threat to its power. "If it's a trade-off between worrying about their international image, and preventing things from getting out of control in China, they will crack down."
Ai knows that. Which is why he's so compelling on camera.
"He is really smart, and really savvy," Klayman said.
In June, police told Ai he could face bigamy and pornography charges. Ai told Reuters news service that police mentioned a 2010 studio photograph that shows him sitting next to four women, all five of them naked. Though married, he openly meets a girlfriend with whom he has a young son.
"My biggest challenge to myself [in making the movie] was if you didn't know anything about him, you could watch it," Klayman said. "But also if you were a China insider, from the art world or a China-watcher, you would see things you didn't know."
In the film, Ai describes himself as an optimist - persistently believing in the possibility of change - and a chess player. "My opponent makes a move, I make a move," he says.
Klayman said Ai, 55, never tried to influence how she should make her movie, what to put in and what to leave out. He was protective of his mother. And for a long time he was reluctant to let Klayman film his son.
She said she hopes the film is ultimately about more than Ai or even China. She hopes it will move audiences to ask themselves: What is my vision for a better future? What would I risk to express myself?
Reviews of the film, which opened in Philadelphia on Friday at the Ritz Five, have been stellar. The New York Times called the film "galvanizing," Entertainment Weekly gave it an "A," and its score on the Metacritic website was a high 81 out of 100. "A remarkable, joyous piece of filmmaking," wrote The Inquirer's Tirdad Derakhshani.
"Some parts of it are a hoot," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, who noted that in human-rights work, there's not usually much to laugh about.
In a scene at an outdoor dinner in Chengdu, Ai realizes he's being filmed by police. His cameraman responds by turning the tables, switching on his recorder and filming the police as they film Ai.
"It's a great way of saying, 'No, we're not going to take this sitting down,' " Richardson said. "You get a very visceral look at what it's like to challenge officialdom, whether it's the police, the courts, or the media, in China today."
Since the film's release, Klayman has been named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" and to ArtInfo's "30 under 30" list of influential young people. She intends to make more films, probably about China, while not knowing exactly what her next project might be.
"The story of China going forward," she said, "doesn't take place only in China."
VIDEO: Watch the trailer from "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry." www.philly.com/weiwei
Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @JeffGammage.