Ai Wei Wei is China's most influential contemporary artist, active in numerous fields (sculpture, installation, architecture, photography, and more...), as well as a major political activist for democracy and human rights, making him one of the leading critical voices against the Chinese government. He is now making his debut as a film actor, as the lead in a new science fiction film, a short titled "Sandstorm", where he plays a smuggler in a world devoid of water.
We all got to see Ai Wei Wei's work in the 2008 Olympics as he is the consulting artist for the then newly built Beijing National Stadium, "The Bird's Nest", which housed the Olympic Games for that year. Ai Wei Wei's work has been exhibited in countless museums around the world, among them the prominent Tate Gallery and Victoria & Albert Hall in London, but in recent years he is more well known for his public criticism of the Chinese government in regards to civil and human rights.
On April 2011 Ai Wei Wei was arrested by the Chinese authorities on his way to the Beijing airport, and held for 81 days, which led to an international cry for his release. The alleged "economic crimes" were never proven, he was released but remained under house arrest, his passport taken away and his name and art were put on a digital black list - you'll be hard-pressed to find any mention of him or his work on the Chinese web.
This is where Jason Wishnow enters the stage, a film-maker who has for years been the video manager for the popular micro-talk site and world-famous summit - TED. Winsnow knew Ai Wei Wei's story well - while he was working for TED a secret Ai Wei Wei TED talk was smuggled to him, for presentation at the 2011 summit. Wishnow left his role at TED at 2013 and flew over to Beijing, a city he had never visited before, to serve as a creative retreat - figuring out his new direction in a new place. During his stay a meeting with the famous artist was made possible, and an hour into a philosophical conversation, Ai Wei Wei leaned over and asked - "So, what can we do together?". Wishnow did not miss the opportunity and pitched a short story he had been playing around with. A science fiction story. Ai Wei Wei immediately confessed his great love for the genre, and wondered how fast Wishnow can get a script ready...?
Science fiction is well known as an especially subversive and critical genre, the most important of the genre cannon hold explosive political and social critique - George Orwell's 1984, Stanislaw Lem's The Congress or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury are prime examples. A science fiction film with Ai Wei Wei involved, his life and work already under surveillance by Chinese authorities, is a life threatening production, no less. Wishnow had to sprint a marathon run - in an extremely short time he had finished writing the script and assembled a crew - counting on contacts from his TED days, and locals - whom were paid in cash and in advance, as they had not much confidence that an Ai Wei Wei sci-fi short would actually be made... Shooting took place on the outskirts of Beijing, In freezing winter weather and extreme air pollution conditions. The entire production was under a veil of secrecy more appropriate for a covert CIA operation - the crew used code words and changed communication means and platforms all through the production.
The film is now complete and in post-production. A kickstarter campaign is under way, to get cinephiles the world over to support the film and see it when it comes out. It is a remarkable success, with the first goal (of 33K US$) reached in less than 48 hours. The film will undoubtedly show at a coming premiere festival near you.