淹沒 before the flood

I missed this one completely. 淹沒Before the Flood was screened in Guangzhou on the weekend. It’s also at the Los Angeles Film Festival right now.

When the Three Gorges Dam is completed, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It will also have caused the displacement of over a million Chinese by submerging their homes—and heritages—under water. This intimate documentary captures the plight of Fengjie, a 2,000-year-old walled village that finds itself with only a few years to relocate to higher ground.

For many, Fengjie is an important historical site, the birthplace of poets and the final resting ground for emperors. For the local officials, it’s a logistical problem, which they tackle with a deft combination of civic boosterism and total denial. (One official becomes a master of the art of ditching phone calls.) For the people who live there however, Fengjie is home and, simply put, they don’t want to leave.

Directors Li Yifan and Yan Yu operate in a quiet, loose veritéstyle, juxtaposing the daily lives of laborers and innkeepers with the inner workings of the relocation committee without comment. People occasionally address the camera, but it’s not at an interviewer’s prompting. Rather it’s because no one else will listen to them. For despite their pleas and complaints and outright refusal to cooperate, ultimately they have little choice but to watch as their lives are dismantled, brick by brick, to make way for the modern world.

—LA Film Festival