News from the Locarno Festival

Quenching a Powerful Thirst

Quenching a Powerful Thirst



"South Water" North Displace "is" the direct translation of Nan Shui Bei Diao, a program of colossal dimensions currently underway in China, aiming at deviating the waters of the Yangtze river to irrigate the Northern, drier regions of the country, and in particular the capital city of Beijing.

A seeming evident case of human delusions of grandeur, the project would seem insane to most people, and was indeed postponed for fifty years until a collusion of political powers allowed its launch in 2002. Since then, the machine has been unstoppable: riverbeds have been dug, populations displaced, and opponents silenced.

Why reforest deserts while deforesting vast areas in order to re-house villagers made homeless by the Nan Shui Bei Diao? “Why not?” leaders would answer, fixated on the idea that mankind should exert its control over nature. In Antoine Boutet’s gorgeously shot film, this Icarian defiance is thoroughly questioned, and one of its fascinating speakers undertook an actual on field examination of the titanic enterprise, equipped with a set composed simply of a backpack, a tent and a good measure of curiosity. In a similarly open-minded and extensive approach, the filmmaker composed a complete and dizzying picture of the mammoth project and its even more immense impact, allowing both its workers and victims to speak. But it is the latter whose soaring chorus of distress resounds the loudest, in one of the film’s most unforgettable scenes.

When the counter-powers of a younger, more connected generation are evoked, an earlier scene of the film is recalled: the image of an astonishing man, singing. Facing injustice with a ‘cold eye’ is how this glorious mind survived 19 years of absurd imprisonment. United, men like him might be able to overturn things, despite their opponent’s tremendous head-start.


Antoine Boutet
L'État chinois a écrit un scénario-béton: le Nan Shui Bei Diao, une grille figeant toutes coordonnées, renversant les points cardinaux pour les accorder à leur désir. À contre-courant, j’ai renversé à mon tour les perspectives: déjouer, contourner et aller contre, en remontant les fleuves. Le paysage m'a dirigé, pour laisser émerger une histoire issue du terrain, de ses découvertes et de ses accidents.

Aurelie Godet
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