Before The Flood

Yan YuLi Yifan

China 2005, 150 min

Film shows the human effects of one of history’s grandest social engineering projects that reflecting the loss of both home and heritage

It is being built to generate electricity and to control the frequent floods along the river. But when finished, the dam will result in the permanent flooding of a huge area of fertile farmland, historical sites and the homes of almost two million people. The town of Fengjie, the setting of many famous poems by Li Bai, an important Tang Dynasty poet, was flooded back in 2002. Li Yifan and Yan Yu visited Fengjie during 2002 when the population were to be relocated just before the town was flooded. They capture the frustration of the people as they are forced to leave their homes and at the same time have to fight with the local officials to be relocated and compensated, which clearly isn’t being properly taken care of.

The elderly man running a small inn can’t get a new place for his business, the many farmers who had only small plots to begin with don’t get new land to cultivate. And families who own nothing with no money in the bank are discussing how they can raise the 40,000 Yuan (EUR 3,830) needed to buy one of the new flats being built. The destiny of the porters living in dirty bunk beds is also uncertain. People here are already poor and, facing an unknown future, they become desperate.

The local officials are not very helpful and readily shift responsibility higher up. They are subjected to both verbal and physical attacks by the desperate people. Before a big local session where people are supposed to draw lots to get a new house, the inhabitants meet and decide to organise a boycott, which effectively causes the local officials to sweat, as they are unprepared for dealing with civil disobedience.

The directors are ever-present in the lives of the people by placing themselves in the midst of their internal discussions. With a trained eye for significant details, they follow the inhabitants’ attempts to deal with the situation. People get time to speak and the camera moves smoothly around demonstrating high visual sensitivity. The editing chronologically follows some of the characters over the eleven months of their lives just before the flood, creating an elegant flow of scenes that are interwoven into a larger story, a story about the conflict between big national interests and the small citizen who is sacrificed for the larger progress. A brilliant, classic observational documentary giving a voice to those who are not asked.


Modern Times Review