Ai Weiwei in film fundraising dispute

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Associated Press

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 2:05 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 29 at 2:06 AM

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

In a letter to director Jason Wishnow, Ai said he didn't 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 with Ai playing a smuggler who evades authorities.

Ai said in the letter that he did not give consent for Wishnow to use his name and image to promote the film and that 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 April 23 and confirmed on Tuesday as authentic by one of Ai's assistants.

The letter called on 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.

The film dispute marks the latest controversy surrounding Ai, whose international renown has soared in recent years, along with the prices of his artworks. A sculptor, designer and documentary-maker, Ai has irked 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, Ai has been banned from leaving China since being secretly detained for 81 days three years ago by China's authoritarian communist government for reasons that were never specified. After his release in June 2011, Ai's design firm was slapped with a $2.4 million tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts.

Neither Ai nor the New York-based Wishnow immediately responded to messages seeking further comment on the film controversy.

However, in an April 20 email to The Associated Press, 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 on the movie. He said the film had received more than 2,000 funding supporters.

In an April 9 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 authorization — and this became part of some of the original hype surrounding the project. However, Ai remains under close government scrutiny and it was unlikely that the authorities did not know about the filming at some level.

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Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan contributed to this story from Hong Kong.

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