Zhang Gongli is a farmer who grew up in the village of Qiugang, in Anhui Province; his house and fields lie near the banks of the Huai River. In 2004, private chemical companies took over an old state-owned enterprise that had long produced pesticides and dyes in Qiugang.  As production ramped up, black waters disgorged from the plants and flooded the fields of Qiugang. Fish died, crops failed, and villagers grew alarmed by the large numbers of their own succumbing to cancer.

When his own fields could no longer be farmed, Zhang filed a lawsuit against the factory that adjoins his land. He lost. This marked the beginning of a stubborn and often dangerous campaign that spanned five years. Our film follows Zhang and his allies in the village as they draw up a petition to bring to Beijing, recruit support from the local media, reach out for help from a local NGO, and in time, make contact with environmental activists from across China. From clandestine trips to the nation’s capital to private negotiating sessions with factory representatives, our footage reveals a rare portrait of grassroots activism in contemporary China. Far from a simple black-and-white portrait, the film tracks the villagers as they seek out the help and power of the national government to curb local businesses and local officials. The film’s intimacy leads us past the headlines and clichés about modern China to offer a memorable portrait of villagers wrestling with, and transformed by, China’s headlong rush into modernity.

 Copyright © 2010 , Thomas Lennon Films & Chang Ai Media Project .