Directed by Zhao Liang
2009, 124 minutes
Purchase: $310| Classroom Rental: $125
A critically-acclaimed and landmark work of investigative journalism, this documentary takes us inside the world of ‘petitioners,' people who come to Beijing from all over the country to seek justice against corrupt government officials and courts back home, only to find themselves waiting months and years (in some cases more than 10 years) for a hearing.
A tradition that dates back to imperial times, the Chinese court system allows citizens with grievances against local officials to petition a higher authority. Thus thousands of men and women each year come to the Complaints Office of the Supreme People's Court in Beijing for their case to be heard. The vast majority of these ‘petitioners' are impoverished villagers who endure endless waits while living in makeshift tents inside shantytowns. Often, thugs are hired to pressure the petitioners to return home.
Following the saga of a group of petitioners for over a decade (including one woman and her daughter who have waited 10 years for a hearing), Petition unfolds like a novel by Dickens or Kafka (the similarities to "The Castle" are frightening). Unwilling to accept defeat and seemingly unable to do anything but wait, the petitioners enter a strange and often terrifying zone, gradually losing touch with family and friends back home and with the cruel reality of their situation.
Filmed right up to the start of the 2008 Olympic Games, this powerful documentary illustrates the persistent cracks in the system of a country experiencing unheralded economic expansion.
Subjects & Collections
Festivals & Awards* Official Selection, Cannes Film Festival, 2010
* Official Selection, Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, 2010
Reviews“A brave and wrenching new documentary… An eye-opening testimony both to the rigors of life in contemporary China and to the power of committed and honest cinema.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“A stirring, stunning documentary.” – Time Out New York
"The fiercest and most confrontational film regarding the Chinese government’s suppression of dissent that I’ve seen... [Petition] shows that discontent with abusive one-party rule isn’t the domain solely of disaffected intellectuals but also of ordinary people who are tired of being, as one of them says, the ‘new slaves of socialism.’” – The New Yorker
“Petition is among the best in an extraordinary wave of recent documentaries vividly detailing the oppression clamped upon the Chinese citizenry.” – Slant Magazine
"An exemplary piece of journalism. An angry and harrowing investigation by Chinese documentary maker and artist Zhao Liang." – Screen Daily
"Superb. Zhao’s quietly probing exposé is a moving paean to grassroots resistance that flourishes despite the bureaucracy’s seeming indifference to the plight of 'common people.'" - Cineaste
"A harrowing documentary about the fate of Chinese people who petition local authorities for change." – Hollywood Reporter
"A vital documentary." – Village Voice
"One of the best docs I’ve ever experienced, Petition, by Zhao Liang, a powerful indictment of the so-called petition system of registering complaints against regional authorities in a Beijing office." – Filmmaker Magazine
“Emerging from arduous, dangerous, in-the-trenches work, Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang’s documentary investigations open onto the profound problems of a country often kept hidden by authorities… His latest work, Petition, was filmed over more than a decade, and goes even deeper to uncover a segment of Chinese society left silent and demoralized by bureaucracy and corruption… Petition thoroughly demonstrates China’s farce of due process, but also agonizingly captures the lives emotionally malformed by it.” - Artforum
Further Reading"The documentary film Petition by Zhao Liang is considered by many of its viewers to be a fearless work of art. Shot over 12 years, it shows how the authorities muzzle and brutalize Chinese who, following an age-old tradition, travel to Beijing seeking redress for wrongdoing by local officials." - Edward Wong, The New York Times From the front page The New York Times article on Sunday, August 14, 2011.
THREE FILMS ON CHINA
An award-winning trilogy exploring the changing face of China from the filmmaking team of Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon, this set includes the Academy Award nominated documentary The Warriors of Qiugang, the acclaimed Tongzhi in Love, and the Academy Award winning The Blood of Yingzhou District.
THE WARRIORS OF QIUGANG
A powerful documentary that captures the stirrings of an environmental movement in China, The Warriors of Qiugang brings to light the incredible efforts of a small village to shut down a chemical plant after years of environmental neglect. It is the third film in a trilogy about the changing face of China, from the filmmakers of The Blood of Yingzhou District and Tongzhi in Love.
In northeastern China, the Songhua River has for generations served as a vital center – for leisure, commerce, and most importantly, drinking water – for the people of Harbin. Filmed only one year after a major chemical spill in its waters, Songhua depicts the enduring and complex relationship between the city’s residents and their "mother river," and considers the environmental implications of the waterway’s condition.
DEMOLITION / CHAIQIAN (拆 - 迁)
Focusing on a vast demolition site in the center of Chengdu, the Sichuan capital in western China, a bustling site emblematic of the rapid growth and development occurring throughout the country, J.P. Sniadecki’s Demolition is a wonderfully patient and revealing portrait of the migrant laborers who work and live in its shadow.