Ai Weiwei’s acting debut in secretly shot film

Kickstarter Milestone #1– Most Dangerous Barber in the World (The Sand Storm) from jason wishnow on Vimeo.

THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴) is a dystopian science fiction film set in the not-too-distant future. It is a low-fi sci-fi short, made in China under the radar, starring the dissident artist Ai Weiwei in his acting debut (playing a smuggler in a world without water); shot by Christopher Doyle (“In the Mood for Love,” “Chungking Express,” “Hero”); written and directed by Jason Wishnow (the filmmaker behind “TED Talks”).

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Filmmaker Jason Wishnow’s statement on Kickstarter

My name is Jason and for the longest time I wanted to make my own films, so I left my job and my home to fly from New York to a city I’d never been to before, Beijing. I chose China for creative solitude because I’m easily distracted and had heard the Internet would be blocked for me, perfect for writing. Next thing you know …

Beijing felt like the future, not cool and sleek (that’s Shanghai) but dim and gritty.

Back when I ran TED’s video department, a secret TED Talk was smuggled out of China—directly to me. That’s partly why, early one morning, I was invited to meet: AI WEIWEI 艾未未 .

An hour into our first conversation (about the flow of information and the collateral damage of uncertainty) he leaned in close and asked, “What can we do together?” I seized on an unexpected opportunity to pitch a film. Ai Weiwei would play a smuggler in a world without water, as told through the lens of a personal, human drama.  Already the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, this would mark his acting debut. He listened, confided he loved sci-fi, and asked how fast I could write the screenplay. This was a real opportunity to create something truly meaningful. I now also needed to track down: CHRISTOPHER DOYLE (杜可風)

THE STORY would be dark, but the movie could only look beautiful. The one cinematographer I wanted was the first I ever knew by name, a frequent collaborator with Wong Kar-wai and Gus Van Sant, a man whose eye shaped the aesthetic of Asian cinema. We had never met. Though a contemporary of Ai Weiwei’s, they had never met either. Soon, both had copies of my script … translated into Mandarin (北京话).

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Doyle and Ai agreed to the script the same day, but with the odds stacked against us: All of China was about to shut down for the holidays giving us two weeks exactly to find the rest of our cast and crew or we would be forced into production limbo indefinitely. Given the subject and the star, our shoot might not be safe which meant anyone who didn’t decline, instead demanded cash in advance. We had no time for fundraising. Finally, the weather fell below freezing and on a scale of 1-500 (smoggy days in Los Angeles register 60-90), pollution indexes hit a record 800. This was the climate in which we operated.

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