Editor's note: "Through a Screen Darkly," a monthly commentary by CT Movies critic Jeffrey Overstreet,explores films old and new, as well as relevant themes and trends in cinema. The column continues the journey begun in Overstreet's book of the same name.
Nothing here along the Yangtze River is what it seems.
If we just look at the mountains, we'll be fine. They're breathtaking, looming green and formidable over the river's winding silver path. They flow into and out of one another like waves, shrouded in an eerie mist as if the ghosts have gathered here to rest. If we watch cruise ships drifting quietly through these gorgeous gorges, we might be moved to make travel plans.
But two films—new on DVD—will give us pause. Both shine a bright light on these landscapes and reveal a story that Chinese tour guides would rather cover up.
The deep water is the result of China's massive Three Gorges Dam project. In the works for almost a century, this concrete superstructure, nearly a mile and a half wide, was built in the middle of the Xiling Gorge to help control the Yangtze, which floods from time to time. But it will eventually accomplish much more: When the dam, Earth's largest hydroelectric power station, starts humming in 2011, it will provide clean electricity for more than 400 million people.
But as a dam, it will also change the Yangtze's flow. And since 2006, the waters have risen steadily across many miles. As a result, thousands of years of Chinese history, its ancient agrarian culture, and the homes and livelihoods of more than 1.2 million Chinese commoners have been displaced. It's Atlantis all over again—only this time humankind is to blame.
Think about that number: 1.2 million people, many of them poor, ...1
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