"The Sand Storm" isn't long -- clocking in at 10 minutes -- but the short film does star Ai Weiwei.
It all makes for a great marketing campaign, and indeed, a Kickstarter page to fund the movie's post-production plays up the secrecy involved in filming the Chinese artist's acting debut.
According to director Jason Wishnow, the dangers weren't explicit. Ai's tenuous standing with the government and 24/7 surveillance simply means any move he makes is best made "quietly."
“We were very discreet,” Wishnow told HuffPost in a phone interview.
That Beijing was cloaked in record levels of smog during the two weeks of filming helped in a perverse way, he added. It was like robbing a bank in the safety of a blizzard. “You couldn’t see across the street.”
Set in a dystopian future world without water, the sci-fi thriller revolves around Ai's character, a “water smuggler” who runs the precious substance through the black market. The moody cinematography is by Christopher Doyle, a Cannes winner who works extensively in Asia. The script, Wishnow says, was written with an eye to eventually extend the short into a feature length film.
In a video on the Kickstarter page, Ai talks about his interest in what the plot has to say about “information.”
“We talked a lot about the flow of information, which is an issue close to his heart,” Wishnow said. “That became the metaphor [underlying] a movie about the flow of water.”
Wishnow first interacted with Ai in his previous job as the lead filmmaker for TED Talks, when he live streamed footage of the impounded artist to a stage via Skype.
When the filmmaker moved from New York to Beijing a few years ago on a “self-imposed writing retreat,” he arranged to meet the artist in person. He says he never dreamed the talk would end in Ai suggesting they develop a project together.
“I didn’t know my way around Beijing,” Wishnow says. “If I got a restaurant recommendation out of Ai Weiwei, that would have been something at that point.”