‘Up the Yangtze’ Premieres in New York

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Up the Yangtze, a new documentary about the impact of the Three Gorges Dam project in China by Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang, opens in New York City at the IFC Center tomorrow. The film has won numerous awards on the festival circuit and received much critical acclaim for its moving and powerful portrayal of contemporary China by following the rise of the Yangtze River and the fates of two young people working on a luxury cruise ship on the river.

Last night, a special screening of the film was held at the Rubin Museum, which holds a small but comprehensive collection of Himalayan Art. As the lights went down in the packed theater, I couldn’t help but notice that actor Colin Firth had slipped into the row behind me! It’s not often that you see celebrities at documentary screenings, but the New York audience played it cool. No one gawked (except for me, and even then, discreetly), and Mr. Firth, I hope, was free to be carried along the Yangtze by the power of the film, just like the rest of us.

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world. Since construction began in 1994, over a million people have been forced to relocate, and millions more are projected to lose their homes and livelihoods to the massive project. Flooding and landslides near the dam also threaten lives and homes, and last Saturday, Chinese authorities evacuated approximately 200 people living near the dam after a landslide.

Up the Yangtze provides a look at how the dam is altering the landscapes and lives of the people who live along the river. We meet the impoverished 16-year-old Yu Shui (she takes on the American name “Cindy” when she starts working on the ship) and the arrogant 19-year-old “Jerry” Chen Bo Yu — two very different teenagers who work on a luxury cruise ship that provides a “farewell tour to the Yangtze” for Western tourists. Their stories, as well as the story of the cruise, and the story of what is being lost to the dam, were beautifully shot by Chang’s Chinese crew, and are interwoven together in a film that gives both an overview of the project and close-ups of the people being affected.

This was my second time watching the film, and I loved seeing it on the big screen. Afterwards, Chang answered questions from audience members. When asked what inspired him to make the film, he talked about how he was in China with his parents and embarking on the Yangtze farewell cruise when a marching band began playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy”: “It was like The Love Boat meets Apocalypse Now,” he said. The experience spurred him to make Up the Yangtze. He was also asked about whether he had any problems filming in China (He didn’t have any problems, since he filmed without official permissions, and with a Chinese crew) and what he thought about hydroelectric dams in his native Quebec (he demurred, saying that he wasn’t an expert on the issue). Sadly, Colin Firth did not ask a question.

You can catch Up the Yangtze at the IFC Center in New York starting tomorrow, and later this year on POV

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • John

    FOREIGNID: 15463
    I thought we would be able to get an update on the people in the film on this site, but I can’t find it.

  • Roger

    FOREIGNID: 15464
    I aggree.
    What happened to Yui Shang?

  • Matt

    FOREIGNID: 15465
    if you are looking for the update click on the POV link at the bottom of the article and on that page click on Film Update and it tells all about what happened to Yu Shui .

  • sophie

    FOREIGNID: 15466
    actually, I am exactly from there, I was born in chonqqing city along Yangtze rive, and my home was also relocated bacuse of the Three Gorges-Dam construction like Cindy’s. when I first saw this on TV, I was so surprised to hear my hometown dialect Chinese was spoken on a American TV, I can understand everything they spoke, because I am from there. I have to say that this is a very good documentary and really reflect the true living-conditionS of the poorEST families in China now. I remember one some of my classmates werer also hired to work on some cruise too about 10 years ago.

  • Crystel Tse

    FOREIGNID: 15467
    My 2 children and I watched it and enjoyed seeing how others live. My children who are half Chinese themselves were happy to live in America. My daughter said it was sad.

  • Joe

    FOREIGNID: 15468
    you can find frequent and recent updates under the blog section here: