The 9-minute short was shot in secret in Beijing and had its Kickstarter campaign temporarily shut down by star Ai Wei Wei, China’s most prominent artist and dissident, after producer/writer/director/editor Jason Wishnow overstepped in his marketing of the project. The film, about four people in China dealing with a water shortage in the near future, premieres today at the Telluride Film Festival and on Fandor, the subscription film website.

Fandor logoWishnow, a pioneer in quick-and-dirty video who has been director of film and video for tech conference TED, created the short during a particularly daunting period last year in Beijing, which has some of the world’s worst air pollution. But after filming was done, Wishnow launched a Kickstarter campaign to finish the project, focusing on Ai’s role in his marketing. The resulting media notoriety outraged Ai, who had not been aware of the fundraising campaign, which he demanded be halted. Wishnow had to fly back to Beijing for multiple meetings with the artist, and even after Ai relented and the campaign restarted, Wishnow was making up:

“My intent was to honor you, not exploit you,” Wishnow writes to Ai in part of his Kickstarter campaign materials. “Despite missteps in fundraising strategy, I hope you might renew your faith in this project, but more than that, I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me and to consider me your friend. I continue to admire you tremendously, as a person, as a creator, and as a crusader of art and justice.”

Wishnow also wrote that the problems were caused in part by the unusual channels he had to use to communicate with Ai after the shoot, to get around Chinese government censorship. Ai has been arrested and confined to house arrest for his outspoken criticism of the government in the past.

Never Sorry Film Poster “From our opposite sides of the Great Firewall, things that sometimes seem straightforward can be fraught,” Wishnow wrote. “Creative endeavors with artistic titans should not be treated lightly. An easily avoidable mistake on my part led to an unpleasant surprise on his: discovering our fundraiser secondhand, through the invasiveness of Google alerts and press inquiries which eclipsed any fun we shared on set. Having waited for a finished film, he instead got chaos coupled with inaccuracies… How do you say “I’m sorry” to the Never Sorry Guy?”

Once Ai relented, the Kickstarter ended up raising more than $101,000 from 2,045 donors. The average donor paid about $11 each to see the film a day early, and have their name in the credits. This is the third Fandor short film acquisition to premiere on the site the same day it appears at a festival.