To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.
Lao ma ti hua (Disturbing the Peace)
2010. China. Directed by Ai Weiwei.
Artist and social activist Ai Weiwei has made several documentaries about his activities, but nowhere is he as prominent as in this chronicle of his troubles with local authorities during a trip to Chengdu in 2009. Traveling to support a detained civil rights advocate investigating corruption related to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai is assaulted in his hotel room and arrested by police. His subsequent investigation is both an unprecedented object lesson in civil rights self-defense and something akin to performance art, as he confronts the justice system to a breathtaking degree.
Excerpts from select reviews and writings:
In the fall of 2009, Chinese movie theatres débuted “The Founding of a Republic,” a big-budget political extravaganza to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Chinese Revolution. Around the same time, in no theatres anywhere, Ai Weiwei put out his own film entitled “Disturbing the Peace,” a no-budget documentary shot with a handheld camera, which documented a bizarre day in Chengdu, in which Ai, the lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and others try to find out what happened to one of the artist’s assistants, after she disappeared into police custody following a raid on her hotel room. (In Chinese, the film is known as “Laoma Tihua.”) It is less a film than a visual record of a Sisyphean trip through the justice system.
- Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 4, 2011
Watching that movie, I’m pretty sure my jaw was open the entire time.