Ai Weiwei – A Secret Dystopian Sci-fi Movie filmed in China

Body / Eco / Film / Health / Mind / April 12, 2014

“When the air is toxic and your lead actor is under surveillance, you make a SHORT film and you shoot it FAST.”

The Sand Storm is a short film directed by New York filmmaker Jason Wishnow that was shot completely under the radar in China, starring none other than iconoclastic artist Ai Weiwei in his acting debut. I would like to call The Sand Storm the most anticipated sci-fi short film of the year, but I can’t. If you haven’t heard about it, you are not alone. It was a secret. The existence of The Sand Storm was kept heavily under wraps while shooting in Beijing. A balsy and risky endeavor considering the heavy amount of surveillance surrounding the artist. Ai Weiwei has been closely watched by the government since his 2011 imprisonment.

AI WEIWEI has been called “The Most Powerful Artist in the World” and “China’s Most Dangerous Man” for his massive art installations and his vocal political criticism. In 2011, the police kept him in captivity for 81 days, then held him under house arrest; he remains without a passport. 

“inspired by Beijing itself, a fascinating experiment in urban and social planning, with smog, hutongs and so many distinct elements” – Wishnow


The movie takes place in a dystopian future where Ai Weiwei plays the role of a smuggler in a world without water. Ai, who is already the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary will make his acting debut in a film described as a “low-fi, sci-fi short, made in China under the radar”, the Sand Storm is a movie that is being heralded as a metaphor for life in a city suffering both ecological and informational desertification. Scripted as a 10-minute short, the movie portrays a futuristic China where potable water is as scarce as reliable information.

“It’s not really about water,” Ai says  “It’s really about information.”


“Ai and I were talking about the word ‘flow’ and we thought it was interesting how the word is used to describe both information and water,” Wishnow explains. “So we decided to tell a story about a world where both of those things are very scarce.”


Update: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei says he was misled in lending his name and image to an independent science-fiction film. The website currently carries a notice saying the film was the subject of an intellectual property dispute and presently unavailable.


Cannes award winner Christopher Doyle was the film’s cinematographer, and while he’s undeniably talented at setting an eerie mood, the smoggy backdrop isn’t the result of special effects. In January, officials put up a fake image of the sun on an LED billboard. Now, we can only wait and see how the Chinese government will react about The Sand Storm and Ai Weiwei’s participation in the secret film.

“I wasn’t setting out to make a film that’s an overt political statement, a message-y film.” However, “given the scope of the subject matter and who one of the stars is…I maintained a degree of discretion to avoid the discomfort of constantly having to explain that.” – Wishnow


The Sand Storm to be released in Summer 2014. Directed and written by American Jason Wishnow, the creative force behind the popular online TED Talks lecture series, to which Ai Weiwei star of the film, contributed a self-made video about Chinese censorship in 2011. Photo:SCMP


Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan, Hong Kong – 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.

We don’t know what the final resolution will be and we don’t know whether the film will be shown, Ai representative Darryl Leung


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.


Written by Anne Herrera

Anne Herrera

Anne Herrera is the founder of MUZE COLLECTIVE, a dedicated movement using writing to generate special interest in the Arts, Sciences and Social Justice.

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Anne Herrera
Anne Herrera is the founder of MUZE COLLECTIVE, a dedicated movement using writing to generate special interest in the Arts, Sciences and Social Justice.

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