"Up The Yangtze" (***) (95 minutes)

Wednesday July 9, 2008

Back to reality to screen Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang’s reflective film on the effect that the massive Three Gorges Project is having on the thousands of people being displaced along the Yangtze River by the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam. This quiet documentary reminded me of Franny Armstrong’s powerful 2004 “Drowned Out” which dealt with the travesty of India’s Sardar Sarovar Dam which stripped generations of Adivasi from their land. More quiet in its pronouncement, ”Up The Yangtze” mainly focuses on 2 young individuals whose lives are being directly affected by the change being forced on them by the government project. They are working on a cruise ship that continuously travels The Yangtze catering to the whims of mostly Western tourists. The trip reveals the changes that are taking place along the river banks as Chinese residents are slowly being displaced before the river rises up to 175 meters above its normal depths. The director adds a sparse narration to the proceedings offering his commentary on how the region has changed since he was a youth, while cutting back and forth from the cruise ship to the family of one of the principals to see how they are coping with the displacement about to take place. The filmmaker allows the camera to quietly observe the proceedings in such a way that you feel almost voyeuristic as you watch the tourists relaxing unaware of the devastating situation facing many of the Chinese citizens along the Yangtze. I would have preferred more information as to the displacement process as it involves the general population but, as presented here, the film is an effective testament to an historic change that makes one wonder if "progress" is worth the effect it is ultimately having on the humans and environment directly in its path.