The Sand Storm Director Apologizes to Ai Weiwei for Exploiting His Name

Jason Wishnow tries to smooth things over with the famed artist.

Ai Weiwei, (l.) and Jason Wishnow (r.)

After a month of silence, New York–based director Jason Wishnow has finally responded to Ai Weiwei’s withdrawal of support for the sci-fi short film “The Sand Storm” (沙尘暴), in which Ai plays the role of a water smuggler. Kickstarter suspended Wishnow’s online campaign to fund the project after the Chinese artist complained, via his studio, that he had not given permission to use his name and likeness to promote the film. The letter of complaint requested the cancellation of the Kickstarter project and a public apology. Avoiding any ambiguity, Ai also linked to a cease-and-desist letter on Twitter. On the project’s updated Kickstarter page, which was relaunched on June 3, Wishnow explains that after the fund-raising campaign was frozen, he flew to Beijing and met with Ai three times, with Ai again requesting that his participation be de-emphasized for fund-raising purposes. “How do you say ‘I’m sorry’ to the Never Sorry guy?” the director asks on the site. Lengthily and with great humility, it seems. Writes Wishnow:

DEAR AI WEIWEI: Recently, I erred as if THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴) was an average project with average players, even though everything about it was extraordinary. I see how my actions could be perceived as disrespectful to your status as a world-class artist, supporter of the arts, and human rights defender. Your image and identity are precious, so I should have known better than to take at face value an early conversational nod on your part to make and market this movie as I saw fit. Promoting your involvement in the film while failing to fully include you in our Kickstarter preparations was careless. You demonstrated foresight and fortitude by stopping the fundraising campaign before it may have potentially wreaked damage to your public image, and for that I am humbled. Thank you for taking time, earlier this month when I visited, to speak with me about it and for all your previous encouragement with the film. Ai Weiwei, it has been an honor to work beside you and Du Ke Feng—I can imagine no greater artistic and cinematic Dream Team. My intent was to honor you, not exploit you. Despite missteps in fundraising strategy, I hope you might renew your faith in this project, but more than that, I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me and to consider me your friend. I continue to admire you tremendously, as a person, as a creator, and as a crusader of art and justice. 谢谢您

Notably, while generally kowtowing to Ai, Wishnow’s apology includes the gentle protestation that he had previously received “a conversational nod [from Ai] to make and market this movie as I saw fit.”

The notion that the promotion of The Sand Storm might have damaged Ai’s public image also seems ironic when his decision not to support an independent, 10-minute film he helped make seems much more detrimental. Several members of the Chinese art community artnet News spoke to were exasperated by the artist’s actions. Nevertheless, when contacted, Wishnow assured us the apology is sincere.

As of June 4, The Sand Storm Kickstarter project had 1,907 backers who had pledged $85,731 towards an initial goal of $33,000. The campaign continues until Sunday, June 8. Ai remains one of just four characters in the film.

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