Ai Weiwei Segment Cut From Film
By Ophelia Lai
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s directorial contribution to the romantic anthology film Berlin, I Love You (2019) was removed from the final version by its producers, allegedly due to stakeholders’ fear of retaliation from Chinese authorities. According to Ai, producers cited concerns that his involvement would jeopardize the project’s access to the lucrative Chinese market, which is dominated by state-backed film distributors.
Berlin, I Love You is part of French film producer Emmanuel Benbihy’s ongoing “Cities of Love” omnibus, which explores ideas of romantic love in different locales. Previous films in the series include Paris, je t’aime (2006) and New York, I Love You (2008). Ai’s Berlin segment, which the artist directed remotely via Skype in 2015 as he was under house arrest in Beijing at the time, is set in the German capital and depicts his girlfriend, Wang Fen, and his young son, Ai Lao. The artist told the New York Times (NYT) that the vignette was “sweet” and “not politically sensitive at all.”
Ai’s status as an internationally recognized dissident and outspoken critic of the current Chinese Communist Party government has led to his artworks repeatedly being censored in China, even after the return of his passport in July 2015, following more than 80 days of detention and subsequent house arrest. In August 2016, for instance, Ai’s work was removed by censors from the first Yinchuan Biennale.
In an Instagram post dated February 16, Ai claims he only learned that his sequences had been extracted after Berlin, I Love You debuted in the United States on February 8. He goes on to state that “one of the executive producers of the [Berlin] film is also producing a Shanghai installment,” and that he had been told by producers that his “political status had made it difficult for the production team to secure further funding.”
As reported in NYT, Benbihy is the founder of the nonprofit Cities of Love Global Initiative, which is dedicated to expanding the concept of his films through activities such as talks and mentorship programs for emerging filmmakers. The foundation operates an office in Shanghai among other cities. In an email to NYT, Benbihy gave a conflicting account, stating: “The assignment that is given to each director is to tell an encounter of love taking place today in a specific neighborhood of a city (Berlin here). Ai Weiwei’s segment did not comply with that assignment at all, and our main concern is always to create the unity of the film.”
Two of the film’s producers, Claus Clausen and Edda Reiser, corroborated Ai’s version of events. Reiser remarked to NYT: “We underestimated not the influence of China, but the [. . .] fear of China in the free world.”
Berlin, I Love You currently holds a 19 percent approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
Ophelia Lai is the reviews editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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