Before the Flood (Yan Mo)

LI Yifan and YAN Yu, China (2005) Documentary, 147 minutes

Mandarin and Sichuan dialect w/ English subtitles

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 reflecting the loss of both home and heritage.

Director’s Bio:

Li Yifan

Yan Yu


Monsters and Critics

Eye for Film


Select Film Festivals:

  • 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 Cinéma du Réel Film Festival

Film Clip:

**This title is available in the US only
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