Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  147 minutes
Date:  2005
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Mandarin / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color


Curator imageJason A.Carbine, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Whittier College

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Before the Flood I

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Part I. The residents of the ancient Chinese cities of Fengjie clash with officials forcing them to evacuate their homes -- along with millions of other residents -- to make way for the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

Before the Flood I

These films were selected by Jason Carbine, C. Milo Connick Chair of Religious Studies Associate Professor Department of Religious Studies, Whittier College

Why I selected these films
I chose these films in part because they resonate with other documentaries in this collection --Waking the Green Tiger, Dams, Drugs and Democracy, and Yindabad -- that examine environmental, social, and political issues related to hydroelectric power development and management, worldwide.

I also selected the films because they are particularly useful for any kind of interdisciplinary courses in Asian Studies and in other fields that examine the moral economies of water and water management, as seen from a different local and global perspectives, including comparative social ethics. These films provide an intimate and intense exploration of the tensions, fears, anxieties, and conflicts that arise when people are displaced for development purposes.

Teacher's guide
Please see the combined guide for both films for maps and background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities.

Synopsis Part I
A landmark documentary following the residents of the historic city of Fengjie as they clash with the officials, forcing them to evacuate their homes to make way for the world’s largest dam. China’s Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam built on earth, has displaced millions of local residents whose towns and villages have been flooded. Fengjie, a city that has thrived along the Yangtze River for a thousand years, has only a few months left before it is completely submerged in water. Its citizens contend with administrators and each other over the residences in “New Fengjie,” which are allocated via lottery and are far smaller than the homes they’ve worked a lifetime to build. Communist collectivism gives way to individual ruthlessness while the community battles furiously against bureaucratic mismanagement.

Shot over the course of two years, Before the Flood is a breathtaking achievement in verité-style documentary filmmaking. Directors Yan Yu and Li Yifan observe the death of a city, from streets teeming with life to a ghost town echoing with the sound of sledgehammers. A disaster movie rooted in reality, Before the Flood has won awards around the world and inspired Jia Zhangke’s Still Life, also shot in Fengjie. This profound film shows the human effects of one of history’s grandest social engineering projects that reflect the loss of both home and heritage.

Environmental Justice Focus
This film documents interrelations between environmental engineering and bureaucratic mismanagement, dehumanization, and displacement. Mr. Haiyu Xiang, a hostel owner, symbolizes the plight of many, as he and others struggle against the forces of large-scale water and power management in China.

"Before The Flood highlights problems in inland China's towns and villages around the Three Gorges Project and - from a broader perspective - the distress caused by abandoning homes and lives." - George Williamson, Journalist, Eye for Films


Wolfgang Staudte Prize, Berlin Film Festival Humanitarian Prize, Hong Kong Film Festival Grand Prize, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Best Documentary Feature, Lisbon Int'l Documentary Film Festival International Competition, 2005 Cinema du Reel Film Festival


Main credits

Li, Yifan (film director)
Yan, Yu (film director)
Yan, Yu (cinematographer)

Other credits

Cameras: Yu Yan; editor: Fan Yu.

Distributor credits

Li Yi-fan and Yan Yu

Li Yi-fan and Yan Yu

Directors: Li Yi-fan, Yan Yu
Editors: Yu Yan
Cinematography: Yu Yan

Docuseek subjects

Environmental Justice
Asian Studies
Anthropology and Archaeology
Rivers and Lakes
Dams and Hydroelectricity
Government Policy
Communication and Media Studies
Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
Human Rights
Global / International Studies
Film and Video Studies
East Asia
Women's Studies

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Environmental Geography
Human Rights
Visual Anthropology


"Before the Flood", "Yan Mo", China, Three Gorges Dam, Fengjie, YAN Yu, LI Yifan,hydropower, hydroelectricity, "Before the Flood II" Gongtan, Icarus Films dGenerate Films, Yangtze River, oustees, displaced populations, Haiyu Xiang, Guizhen Yang, Chunjie Li, Dajun Li, Chaoyang Xiang, New Fengjie, Yangtze River, Three Georges Dam, Kuimen Gorge; "Before the Flood I"; Global Environmental Justice,women,gender,

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