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Great Wall Across the Yangtze

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the Yangtze river
Set against the backdrop of China's stunning Three Gorges region, GREAT WALL ACROSS THE YANGTZE tells the story of a legendary river that today faces its greatest challenge. In 1994, the People's Republic of China ordered the damming of the Yangtze with a massive wall of concrete and steel - a 15-year project that will create the world's largest dam and hydroelectric power plant.

Shooting without government authorization, filmmaker Ellen Perry penetrates the heartland of China to uncover the unique heritage and beauty of this great river and to understand the profound changes the dam will bring to China's people.

woman collecting water

archive photo - man in Yangtze

The film ushers viewers to the stunning Three Gorges region where a complex tale of China's quest for modernization unfolds.

Using archival footage and expert engineering testimony, GREAT WALL examines the government's case for the massive dam before investigating the monumental impact it will have on the people, the environment and the priceless archeological sites of the region.

To China's leaders, the Three Gorges dam will propel the nation's economy into the 21st century. The project promises significant power generation along with improved flood control and safer navigation.

But it will also turn riverbank cities into freshwater Atlantises, forcing over a million people to leave their homes forever.

GREAT WALL takes the audience to ground zero of the largest peacetime evacuation in history. Frustrated and feeling powerless, the people facing relocation complain about their fate. One tells of corrupt local officials who seek to line their pockets with compensation cash meant for the farmers.

journalist, Dai Qing
Dai Qing
In a daring interview, journalist Dai Qing sends a portentous warning to government officials who have largely ignored the mounting tensions in the Three Gorges area. She also reveals a critical link between the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and the government's parallel effort to eliminate opposition to the dam - an effort that led to her 10-month imprisonment for exposing the risks behind the project.

As the Yangtze region inhabitants are moved, they must abandon not only their homes and land, but ancestral burial grounds and temples. With American archeologist Elizabeth Childs-Johnson and the chief of China's recovery effort, Yu Weichao, GREAT WALL explores these links to China's past. Between 80 and 90 percent of the endangered sites will be buried deep under water. Chinese archeologists, who cannot question the dam without risking their jobs, desperately plead for an international effort to save the relics.

QiQi, the dolphin
QiQi the Baiji Dolphin
Archeological treasures aren't the only things in need of rescue. GREAT WALL tells the story of QiQi, China's only captive freshwater dolphin, whose endangered Yangtze River brethren face certain doom when the dam is built.

Meanwhile engineers debate the technical challenges of the project. Have the Chinese engineers solved the problem of sediment build-up, or will the reservoir become choked with mud as the years pass? Even if dire scenarios fail to materialize, a slight miscalculation in sediment treatment could create financial disaster.

To many critics, the real motive behind the dam extends beyond the official line. They believe government leaders have cast the dam as a symbol of China's emergence as a major technological and economic superpower. The critics say that from the government's perspective, the dam must be completed as a matter of national honor. But will saving face condemn China to fiscal and ecological catastrophe? Each day that the project moves forward, turning back becomes more costly and politically risky.

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