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Documentary master Zhao Liang at Minneapolis (tonight!), Boston and New York (next week!)

Petition (dir. Zhao Liang)

In the recent Top Ten Chinese Films of the 2000s poll, one of the top-ranked documentaries was Zhao Liang’s Petition: The Court of the Complainants. A pretty impressive showing, given that the film was just released last year and has been seen by relatively few people, even in Chinese cinema circles. Tonight folks in Minneapolis will have a chance to see what some are calling the most exciting Chinese documentary since West of the Tracks.

Zhao Liang will be visiting the Walker Art Center this weekend to present his films Petition and Crime and Punishment. Then he will visit the East Cost to present his work at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, the Harvard Film Archive, the China Institute in New York, and the Center of Religion and Media at New York University.

Information on his films and a full schedule of his programs after the break.

“Zhao Liang has endurance, an endurance that he shares with many of those who appear in his documentary films. The individual stories of the underprivileged are what interest him, and he makes this a starting point for his exploration of the general constitution of Chinese society. Zhao captures those sides of life that are ignored by official politics and, in so doing, acts as a chronicler of everyday life. Futility, running idle, stubbornness, and stamina are motifs shared by all of his films, while the dramatic consequences of the rapid economic and structural transformation in China constitute the continuous backdrop to his work.” (Quoted from the catalogue of the 2008 Berlin Biennial)

Crime and Punishment (dir. Zhao Liang)

Crime and Punishment

Shot near the director’s hometown at China’s border to North Korea, Crime and Punishment follows a few young officers at the local police station as they carry out their law enforcement duties and features cases too insignificant and absurd to be reported in the media: A mentally ill man calls them for a “corpse” he has found in his bed which turns out to be a pile of blankets. An apparently mute robbery suspect would not provide them with the needed confession. The long and penetrating shots of the director gradually uncover the real human stories and key themes from a China that is both regimented and rapacious. This witty picture, whose comedy often has a chilly edge, provides us with an insight into how the social structure is influenced by the omnipresence of police. The film was the winner of the Best Director Award at the 10th One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival and the top prize at the Festival of Three Continents, 2007. In Mandarin with English subtitles, 122 minutes.

Saturday, January 30, 7:30 pm – Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Wednesday, February 3, 7:00 pm – Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

Friday, February 5, 8:00 pm – The China Institute, New York City Petition: the Court of Complainants

Since 1996, Zhao has filmed the “petitioners” who come to Beijing from all over China to file complaints about abuses and injustices committed by the authorities. He follows the sagas of peasants thrown off their land, workers from liquidated factories, and homeowners who have seen their dwellings demolished but received no compensation. Often living in makeshift shelters around the southern railway station, the complainants wait months or even years for justice and face brutal intimidation. Filmed up to the start of the 2008 Olympic Games, Petition arrestingly illustrates the contradictions of a country experiencing powerful economic expansion. Premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. 2009, in Mandarin with English subtitles, video, 120 minutes.

Friday, January 29, 7:00 pm – Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Monday, February 1, 7:00 pm – Harvard Film Archive


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