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Up the Yangtze encore at the Forum

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If you didn’t get a chance to catch Montreal filmmaker Yung Chang’s excellent documentary, Up the Yangtze, it will begin an encore run at the AMC Forum starting tonight, screening daily at 2:30, 5:00, 7:40 and 10:15.

Back by popular demand, Up the Yangtze will return to theatres this Friday August 15 for an open run at Montreal’s AMC Forum. The epic documentary provides another face to China not shown during the Olympic Games, exploring the lives of people living along the Yangtze River, forced to deal with flooding from the massive Three Gorges Dam.

More than just an account of the impact of the Three Gorges Dam, Chang’s film encapsulates the transformations underway in urban and rural China as it emerges as one of the world’s largest economies. This is a human story about people and the place they inhabit — a place that is being flooded by change both literally and figuratively. I wrote a bit about Up the Yangtze when I last saw it:

This intimacy is what makes Up the Yangtze so powerful. Through Yu Shui, the cruise, and the landscape through which they travel—a ghost landscape that will inevitably disappear, whether the people who inhabit it are ready or not—we get a sense of the contradictions of life in present-day China. There are no pat conclusions here: this is movie that shatters illusions and revels in the complex, ambiguous reality of the situation.

In one scene, Chang and his crew interview a man who sells the furniture left behind by refugees from the flooding. He begins by justifying the Three Gorges project with canned, unconvincing rhetoric, but soon reveals that he himself was a farmer forced off his land without compensation. Unexpectedly, and unsettlingly, he begins bawling. “It’s so hard in China,” he says, shaking, tears running down his face. “Being a human is hard, but being a common person in China is even more difficult.” Meanwhile, an argument about stolen compensation money begins to rage in the street outside, and it becomes clear what devastating consequences the dam will have on the social fabric of the communities it has already displaced.

Some of the more surreal images from Up the Yangtze are those of the old, abandoned city of Fengdu, perched brooding on the banks of the river. It will soon be flooded, an entire city submerged. Appropriately, but only in the most morbid of ways, Fengdu is known as the Ghost City, and its name refers to the doors of hell—the entrance to the realm of the dead—in Taoist mythology.


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