Science fiction turns to friction Ai Weiwei

Chinese dissident artist Ai 
Weiwei says he was misled into lending his name and image to an independent science-fiction film that sought to raise funds on the Kickstarter website.

Ai Weiwei claims he was misled over the campaign for Jason Wishnows scifi film. Picture: AFP/Getty
Ai Weiwei claims he was misled over the campaign for Jason Wishnows scifi film. Picture: AFP/Getty

In a letter to director Jason Wishnow, Mr Ai said he did not approve of the way in which he was being used to promote The Sandstorm.

The film-in-progress has been described as a dystopian tale of a future China in which water has become scarce. Mr Ai plays a small part as a smuggler who evades authorities.

The artist– who has shot to fame in recent years for drawing attention to injustices in China – said he did not give consent for Mr Wishnow to use his name, involvement and image to promote the film.

He said he agreed only to take a minor role in the project, but was now being advertised as the film’s star.

“Ai Weiwei considers that you have not only misled him in this regard, but are also potentially deceiving providers of funds to your project as to the extent of Ai Weiwei’s involvement in the project, potentially implicating Ai Weiwei in your deception without his knowledge or consent,” said the letter, sent on Ai’s behalf on 23 April.

The letter called on Mr Wishnow to direct Kickstarter to cancel and remove the advertised project, a demand he apparently agreed to.

The website currently carries a notice saying the film was the subject of an intellectual property dispute and presently unavailable.

Mr Ai’s agent, Darryl Leung, said the letter was authentic, but no response had yet been received from Mr Wishnow.

“We don’t know what the final resolution will be and we don’t know whether the film will be shown,” Mr Leung wrote.

New York-based Mr Wishnow is yet to comment on the row and the future of the 

The film dispute marks the latest controversy surrounding Mr Ai, whose international renown has soared in recent years, along with the prices of his artworks. A sculptor, designer and documentary-maker, he has irritated Beijing by using his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in China and the need for greater transparency and rule of law.

Despite his fame, Mr Ai has been banned from leaving China since being secretly detained for 81 days three years ago by 
China’s communist government for reasons that were never 
specified. After his release in June 2011, Mr Ai’s design company was slapped with a $2.4 million (£1.4m) tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in 
Chinese courts.

Last week Mr Wishnow said the response to the Kickstarter fundraising campaign had been “far more dramatic” than anticipated, and he was working to put the final touches to the movie.

He said the film had received more than 2,000 pledges of funding support.

In a 9 April interview, the cinematographer, Hong Kong-based Christopher Doyle, said the film had been shot over a few days in locations all across Beijing.

He said the shoot was conducted in semi-clandestine fashion, describing it as a “very minimalistic simple shooting process”.

Footage for the film appears to have been shot without permits or official authorisation – and this became part of some of the original hype surrounding the project.

However, Mr Ai remains under close scrutiny by the government and it is thought unlikely that the authorities did not know about the filming at some level.