A luxury cruise boat motors up the Yangtze, navigating the mythic waterway known in China simply as “The River.” In the biggest engineering endeavour since the Great Wall, China has set out to harness the Yangtze with the world’s largest mega-dam.
Meanwhile at the river’s edge Yu Shui says goodbye to her family and turns to face the future. From their small patch of land, her parents watch the young woman walk away, her belongings clutched in a plastic shopping bag. The waters are rising.
The Three Gorges Dam, gargantuan and hotly contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle, provides the epic and unsettling backdrop for Up the Yangtze, a dramatic and disquieting feature documentary on life inside the 21st century Chinese dream.
Stunningly photographed and beautifully composed, Up the Yangtze juxtaposes the poignant and sharply observed details of Yu Shui’s story against the monumental and ominous forces at work all around her.
Among the two million losing their livelihood to the dam, the Yu family must send their daughter off to work. In a bitter irony she’s been hired by Farewell Cruises, part of the strange apocalyptic tourist trade that thrives along the river, offering a final glimpse of a legendary world before it disappears forever.
Life onboard mirrors the hierarchy of the wider world. Western passengers take in the spectral views, consuming entertainment on the spacious upper decks, while Yu Shui toils in the galley down below, vying with workmates for the few permanent positions. A shy country girl, she must compete with young show-offs like Chen Bo Yu, an urban kid with the over-confidence typical of single sons, the “little emperors” of China’s one-child-only policy.
All the while the ship charts a course towards its controversial destination, travelling upriver through a landscape of unprecedented upheaval, as ancient and revered sites give way to the burgeoning candy-coloured towers of China’s neon future. Back at the river’s edge, far from the bright lights, Yu Shui’s parents assemble their humble possessions as the floodwaters rise.
Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang directs it all with insight and cinematic flair. Drawing inspiration from contemporary Asian cinema and post-war neo-realism, he crafts a compassionate account of peasant life and a powerful documentary narrative of contemporary China.
Yung Chang is the director of Up the Yangtze 《沿江而上》(2007), China Heavyweight 《千錘百鍊》(2012), and The Fruit Hunters (2012). He is currently completing a screenplay for his first dramatic feature, Eggplant, 《茄子》 and developing a feature documentary about Robert Fisk, the controversial Middle East correspondent. In 2015, Chang was selected to participate in the prestigious Sundance Labs for Eggplant, 《茄子》. His latest, Gatekeeper, is on the festival circuit and streaming on Field of Vision, Laura Poitras’ curated online film unit.
Chang’s films have screened at international film festivals including Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, and IDFA and have played theatrically in cinemas around the world. Up the Yangtze was one of the top-grossing documentary releases in 2008. In 2013, China Heavyweight became the most widely screened social-issue documentary in Chinese history with an official release in 200 Mainland Chinese cinemas.His films have been critically-acclaimed, receiving awards in Paris, Milan, Vancouver, San Francisco, the Canadian Screen Award, Taiwan Golden Horse, Cinema Eye Honors, among others and have been nominated at Sundance, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Emmys.
Chang’s films have been shown on international broadcasters including PBS, National Geographic, ARTE, ZDF, Channel 4, HBO, TMN, NHK, CBC, TV2, SBS and EBS.
Chang is the recipient of the Don Haig Award, the Yolande and Pierre Perrault Award, and the Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award. He is a member of the Directors Guild of Canada. In 2013, he was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Academy Awards / Oscars®.
Written & Directed by Yung Chang
Featuring Yu SHUI (“Cindy”) and Chen BO YU (“Jerry”)
Editor Hannele Halm
Director of Photography Wang SHI QING
Music by Olivier Alary
Associate Producers Lixin Fan Li Li
Production Supervisor Michael MK SIU
Produced by Mila Aung-Thwin Germaine YING-GEE WONG (NFB) John Christou
Executive Producers Mila Aung-Thwin Ravida Din (NFB) Sally Bochner(NFB) Daniel Cross
EyeSteelFilm/National Film Board of Canada
Camille Jacques at EyeSteelFilm
GENIE AWARDS — Best Documentary
Full Frame — Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award – Honorable Mention
Full Frame — Spectrum Award – Honorable Mention
Golden Horse Award Winner
Hot Docs — Don Haig Award
Emmy Awards—2 nominations
Independent Spirit Awards —nominated
TIFF Top Ten Films of the Year— Honouree
Best Documentary feature at FICMEC
Best Feature Award at the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival
Special Mention in the International Documentary competition section at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Sustainability Award (Sponsored by City of Denton Sustainability) at Thin Line, Texas
Prix ACIC-ONF du Meilleur long métrage documentaire canadien – Les Percéides
World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival, January 2018 (USA)
Big Sky Film Festival, February 2018 (USA)
Environmental Festival in the Nation’s Capitol, March 2018 (USA)
Bates College, March 2018 (USA)
European Premiere at Movies that matter, March 2018 (Netherlands)
Cleveland International Film Festival, 4 – 15 April 2018 (USA)
ACT Human Rights, 5-8 April 2018 (USA)
Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival, 6 -8 April 2018 (USA)
Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, 12 -28 April 2018 (USA)
EarthxFilm Dallas, 13 – 22 April 2018 (Texas, USA)
Visions du Réel, 12 -21 April 2018 (Switerzland)
Thin Line, 18 – 22 April 2018 (USA)
Good Film Festival, 26 – 29 April 2018 (SWZ)
Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs, 26 April – 6 May 2018
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, 3 – 12 May 2018 (USA)
DocLands Documentary Film Festival, 3 – 6 May 2018
Doxa Documentary Film Festival, 3 – 13 May 2018 (Canada)
Northwestfest Edmonton, 3 – 13 May 2018 (Canada)
TRT Documentary Days, 10 – 14 May 2018 (Turkey)
Millenium Docs Against Gravity, May 11 – 20 (Poland)
Seoul Eco Film Festival, 17 – 23 May 2018 (South Korea)
Doc Edge New Zealand, 9 May – 4 June
Telluride Mountain, 25 – 28 May 2018 (USA, Colorado)
Festival International de Cine Medioambiental de Canarias, May 25 – June 3 (Spain)
CinemAmbiante, 31 May- 5 June 2018 (Italian premiere)
Lighthouse International Film Festival, 7 – 10 June 2018 (Maine)
Valetta Film Festival, 8 – 17 June 2018 (Malta)
Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York, June 14 – 21 2018
Ecuador International Film Festival, July 4 – 8 2018 (Ecuador)
International Maritime Film Festival, July 12th 2018 (Maine, USA)
Cinéma sous les étoiles, July 12th 2018 (Montréal)
Les Percéides, August 16 – 26 2018 (Québec)
Savonlinna International Nature Film Festival, August 17 – 19 2018 (Finland)
Forum ÉcoVillages 2018 aux Diablerets, August 24 2018 (Switzerland)
DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival, September 3 – 8 2018 (Utah, USA)