Screened Monday, October 12, 2009
In China, it is simply known as “The River.” But the Yangtze—and all of the life that surrounds it—is undergoing a truly astonishing transformation wrought by the largest hydroelectric project in history, the Three Gorges Dam. Canadian documentary filmmaker Yung Chang returns to the gorgeous, now-disappearing landscape of his grandfather’s youth to trace the surreal life of a “farewell cruise” that traverses the gargantuan waterway. With Altmanesque narrative agility, a humanist gaze and wry wit, Chang’s Upstairs Downstairs approach beautifully captures the microcosmic society of the luxury liner. Below deck: A bewildered young girl trains as a dishwasher—sent to work by her peasant family, who is on the verge of relocation from the encroaching flood-waters. Above deck: A phalanx of wealthy international tourists set sail to catch a last glance of a country in dramatic flux. The teenage employees who serve and entertain them—now tagged with new Westernized names like “Cindy” and “Jerry” by upper management—warily grasp at the prospect of a more prosperous future. Singularly moving and cinematically breathtaking, Up the Yangzte gives a human dimension to the wrenching changes facing not only an increasingly globalized China, but the world at large.