Watching director Jason Wishnow’s dystopian sci-fi short ‘The Sand Storm’, that features the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (or does it?), has left me somewhat confused.
The short is set in a future that is not so far from now and deals with a world that is apparently starved of water. Ai plays what seems like either a water smuggler or water bottle deliveryman who feels like a water dealer. Since the world of ‘The Sand Storm’ is futuristic, it has the mandatory steel blue tone to it with gizmos built into everyday things of life. My confusion arises from the fact that while I understand that the film talks about a time when water will be at a premium along with possibly clean air, what I don’t understand is why a society that has grown as much as the short suggests would have failed to take care of water. But then there is a reason why it is fiction. I have to accept that that’s the way it is. The 9.22 minute short is very well shot by the hugely talented cinematographer Christopher Doyle which should be reason alone to watch it whether or not it is confusing.
As if as a gift to my tangential way of thinking, soon after watching the short I started reading up a bit about Doyle and chanced upon an interview with him The Guardian. In that, he talks about various things but what caught my attention was this: “Doyle runs on instinct both on and off the set, and there’s no denying that everything he says and does comes from a genuine place. "Fucking hell, I wish I could be JMW Turner," he says when discussing his work on Magic Magic. "Wouldn’t it be one day wonderful to be called a JMW Turner of cinematography?" He often is regarded as one of the best in the business, though.”
What are the odds that I would chance upon this line via a sci-fi short just one day after writing about JMW Turner? How fitting it would have been had Mike Leigh, the director of ‘Mr. Turner’, roped in Doyle to photograph the movie! But I digress.
I read that Ai has protested that Wishnow had not sought the artist’s permission to use his likeness and name to promote the film. ‘You are engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct by soliciting to raise funds for a film which purports to ‘star’ Ai Weiwei, however Ai Weiwei has not entered into any agreement or release permitting you to use his image in said film,” according to Ai’s complaint. Yet, there does not appear to be any effort to stop the free online streaming of the short. I saw it on The New York Times’ ‘T’ this morning. I have even embedded it here from its Vimeo stream.
Doyle, who also goes by his Chinese name Du Kefeng because of his long association with Chinese films, lends the short compelling dystopian lighting which, it appears, was helped in no small measure by China’s notoriously polluted air. Somehow though the theme about a water-starved world does not seem too dystopian or futuristic because of having grown up in India and reported on the problem of water shortage.
Ai Weiwein in ‘The Sandstorm’