When I met Up the Yangtze director Yung Chang at an NFB party in 2006 (right around the time he pitched the project at Hot Docs’ Toronto Documentary Forum), I was surprised at how candid he was. I asked him the basics about his film – what it was about, how far into production he was – but was particularly interested in his experiences filming in China. I’d recently written a piece in realscreen about the challenges some filmmakers face with the complex paperwork for shooting and permissions in the country, and was curious about whether Chang could relate. Turns out, he didn’t have permission from the Chinese government to film. It was actually the American-managed tour company that ran the cruise boat on which the film largely takes place that granted him access to its staff and tourists. Potential permissions crisis averted.
Chang was just as forthcoming at a screening of the film in Toronto about six months ago. He was also a bit nervous, admitting to the audience: “Our survival depends on our opening weekend.” Funny thing is, it coincided with the release of Paris Hilton’s The Hottie & the Nottie. Her film may also deal with the struggles surrounding the 21st century Chinese dream, but I haven’t seen it.
Thankfully, Chang didn’t need to stress over his film’s survival. Yangtze has grossed over $1 million in North America, and is also playing in theaters in the US, Europe and Australia. Of note for those in Toronto or Montreal — the film has just been brought back to AMC theaters there for an open run that starts on August 15. Peel yourself away from Olympics coverage and check out another view of China.