Berlin: From Beijing With Love As Chinese Artist Directs Movie By Remote Control

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

Sundance Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Still - H 2012

The film project will be about Chinese artist and dissident Ai's relationship with his son, whom he cannot visit since he is currently confined to Beijing for his activism.

Acclaimed Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, who is currently confined to Beijing for his activism, will direct a movie by video link as part of the Berlin International Film Festival.

The segment of the ensemble movie Berlin, I Love You that Ai will direct is about the artist's relationship with his son, Ai Lao, who will be six years old on February 6, Ai told THR in a phone interview from Beijing. 

"The film is about my son, he's been living in Berlin since August and I cannot visit him," said Ai, who has many ties to Berlin, including a studio and a standing invitation to take up a post at the city's Akademie der Kunste (Academy of Arts).

Ai has long been one of the Chinese government's most vocal critics, prompting an international outcry after spending 81 days in detention in 2011. He was subsequently released, but his passport was confiscated and he has been confined to Beijing since then.

"They have told me that I will be released one day, but it's still uncertain when," Ai said, adding that it wasn't a question of "days or weeks."

Berlin I Love You is a sequel to the Cities of Love series, where 10 internationally acclaimed directors tell stories about a chosen city and about love. The series includes the films Paris, je t'aime in 2006, New York, I Love You in 2009 and Rio, Eu Te Amo in 2014.

Because of Ai's confinement, producer Claus Clausen will direct the Berlin side of the project, while linking to Ai by Skype.

"We always try to find an angle on cities for the series, and Berlin is an ex-divided city," said Clausen.

"The shooting will be filmed and screened in real time on big monitors in Berlin on Potsdamer Platz and in Beijing on a little screen in Weiwei’s studio, he sees a wide shot of the set. This is a project that exemplifies the belief that love can overcome obstacles," said Clausen, a two-time Oscar nominee who produced The Messenger.

The script is written by Ai Lao's mother, Wang Fen, an independent documentary filmmaker, and she will also coordinate the shooting on Potsdamer Platz at the city's heart.

Ai Lao plays himself, and German star Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds) will play a small part in the story.

The shooting will take place on the first weekend of the Berlin Film Festival 2015 from February 7 thru 9.

Ai is becoming quite talented at producing art by remote control. In September, he directed an installation called @Large in the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco using Skype, and in 2011 he used Skype to collaborate with the Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron on the construction of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London.

There will also be a one-hour documentary about the production of this project.

"With this project we want to show that film can overcome any borders and that a free heart cannot be constrained," said co-producer Edda Reiser.

Ai is the son of one of China's most celebrated revolutionary poets, and he was involved in designing the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

However, he has always been critical of the Communist Party, and he made international headlines with his attacks on the government's handling of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake and other incidents.