Ai Weiwei Was Cut From 'Berlin, I Love You' Because Backers Feared a China Backlash

Sundance Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Still - H 2012
Ted Alcorn

Sundance Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Still - H 2012

Producers of the ensemble drama bowed to pressure and removed a segment from the omnibus film directed by the Chinese dissent artist.

A segment of the ensemble drama Berlin, I Love You, directed by and starring Chinese dissent artist Ai Weiwei, was cut from the final version of the movie because some of the producers and financiers of the film feared a backlash from China.

The romantic drama — featuring 10 short films from 10 different directors all set in the German capital and centered on the subject of love — was released Feb. 8 in the U.S. by Saban Films. Berlin, I Love You is the latest installment in the City of Love series created by Emmanuel Benbihy, which also features Paris, je t'aime; New York, I Love You; Rio, I Love You; and Tbilisi, I Love You.

Fernando Eimbcke, Dennis Gansel, Peter Chelsom and Massy Tadjedin are among the directors that shot segments for Berlin, I Love You, which features Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Diego Luna, Emily Beecham and Luke Wilson among its ensemble cast.

In 2015, Ai Weiwei directed a segment for Berlin, I Love You. As he was at the time still prevented from traveling outside of China because of his activism, the artist directed the movie by video link. The segment focused on the artist's relationship with his son, Ai Lao, then 6 years old and living with his mother in Berlin. German star Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds) also had a small role in the film. Shortly after the film was shot, Ai Weiwei was allowed to leave China and moved to Berlin.

But Ai Weiwei's segment was cut from the final version of Berlin, I Love You after financial backers expressed fears that having the dissident in the movie would hurt the film's chances in China. JL Vision Film have rights in mainland China to Berlin, I Love You.

The Asian desk of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) first reported that Ai Weiwei had been pulled from the film under political pressure. In an interview posted on DW's news feed on Sunday, Ai Weiwei claimed the producers of Berlin, I Love You cut his segment to give the movie a better chance of being accepted by the Berlin International Film Festival. Berlin, I Love You was submitted for the festival but was not accepted.

In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, the Berlin Film Festival said "the participation of Ai Weiwei in a film is not a criteria for the selection, or rejection, of a film" for the festival program.

Sources near the film, however, confirmed Ai Weiwei's claim that plans for a Shanghai-set installment of the City of Love series contributed to the decision to ditch Ai Weiwei's segment in Berlin, I Love You. Emmanuel Benbihy, whose production company Ever So Close has produced all the I Love You sequels, is also planning a Shanghai-set installment of the Cities of Love series. Sources close to Berlin, I Love You said fears the Chinese authorities could shut down the Shanghai project contributed to the decision to ditch Ai Weiwei.

Benbihy and Ever So Close could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ai is considered by many to be the most important Chinese artist of his generation — he famously designed Beijing's National "Bird's Nest" Stadium, a symbol of the 2008 Summer Olympics. But he fell out of favor with the Chinese government over his criticism of corruption and the mistreatment of underprivileged citizens. In 2011 he was arrested and spent 81 days in detention, prompting an international outcry.

He has remained an outspoken activist in his art. His 2017 documentary film, Human Flow, centered on the global refugee crisis.

The controversy around Berlin, I Love You comes a week after One Second, the latest feature from celebrated Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, was abruptly pulled from competition at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Although the Chinese government's official line was that the film was withdrawn for technical reasons, there was widespread speculation that Beijing censored the movie. 

Based on a novel by Zhang's frequent collaborator Yan Geling, One Second had been dubbed the director's love letter to cinema. But the film is set during China's Cultural Revolution era — a politically sensitive period only an artist of Zhang's stature could even conceivably be permitted to broach. The film is said to follow a fugitive and a homeless girl who are drawn together by an enigmatic film reel.