Ai Weiwei has accused the executive producer of the feature film Berlin I Love You (2019) of omitting his contribution for fear of upsetting the Chinese government.
The Cities of Love franchise, which makes anthology-style films celebrating cities across the world, released their homage to Berlin earlier this month without Ai’s contribution. Ai, who was under house arrest when he made the segment in 2015, has alleged that the producers cut the section for political reasons. The franchise is hoping to produce Shanghai, I Love You and Ai alleges that they were concerned that including his contribution in their Berlin film would hinder their chances of making a film in China.
Speaking to the German news outlet Deutsche Welle, Ai said: ‘The festival told them, if Ai Weiwei's in there, the film can never be accepted.’
‘They told me because they're involved in making a Shanghai I Love You, the producer there also thinks that putting my episode in their film would damage their possibilities,’ he continued.
A vocal critic of the Chinese government’s stance on human rights and democracy, Ai was arrested in 2011 at Beijing airport and had his passport confiscated. Unable to leave China, he made the segment cut from Berlin I Love You via Skype.
Ai was the first director to confirm his interest in the project, and was influential in getting other directors – including Fernando Eimbcke, Dennis Gansel, Peter Chelsom, and Massy Tadjedin – to sign-up to the project.
Writing on Instagram, Ai said: ‘It was infuriating to find our involvement had been erased. The reason we were given for the episode’s removal was that my political status had made it difficult for the production team to secure further funding’.
The artist told the New York Times that the segment ‘was not politically sensitive at all. It was frustrating to see Western creators and institutions collaborating with Chinese censorship in such an obvious way.’
Claus Clausen and Edda Reiser, two of the producers of the film have corroborated Ai’s claims: ‘We underestimated the power of China. We were disappointed by the lack of support in the free world,’ they told the Los Angeles Times.
The creator of the franchise, French film producer Emmanuel Benbihy has cited ‘artistic differences’ as the reason for Ai’s removal from the Berlin film. ‘The assignment that is given to each director is to tell an encounter of love taking place today in a specific neighbourhood of a city (Berlin here),’ he told the New York Times. ‘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.’