“Last Train Home, a documentary that looks at Chinese peasants, and four other documentaries that focus on various hot-button topics from the American scene, have been nominated by the Directors Guild of America for its outstanding directorial achievement in documentary.”
Congrats Lixin, I am really excited for Lixin as ‘Last Train Home‘ is his debut film!
Check out my previous entries about the film,
* My March 2010 interview with Lixin Fan, director of “Last Train Home”
* NYT article, “Following Workers’ Trails of Tears in China”
Also check out Roger Ebert’s review of the film.
Here is a trailer of the film,
Here is a Mandarin interview with the director Lixin (訪紀錄片歸途列車導演范立新) posted on Dec 7, 2010 conducted by a US TV station.
* my interview with director Lixin Fan earlier this year,
Here is a film trailer.
Following Workers’ Trails of Tears in China, NYT, Aug 29, 2010
IN the quietly devastating documentary “Last Train Home”Chinese migrant workers huddle together in an overcrowded railway car, sweating through their annual ride home for the New Year holiday. One nattily coiffed young man inveighs against the West, complaining bitterly that American consumers who buy the cheap Chinese goods he makes also get to spend most of their higher salaries on discretionary items, while he, who makes those goods, must send most of his earnings home to support his family.
Lixin Fan, who shot, edited and directed the film, might have chosen to stick with this feisty representative of the new China. Instead his camera cuts away to a middle-aged couple who sit in silence. Zhang Changhua and Cheng Suqin, who make this trip every year to visit the children they left behind nearly two decades ago, belong to a mostly ignored generation of roughly 130 million migrant workers who have sacrificed their productive years, and possibly the integrity of their families, in service to China’s headlong rush into global economic supremacy.
“Many times I was in tears at all this misery,” Mr. Fan said, seated in an anteroom at theLos Angeles Asian-Pacific Film Festival, where “Last Train Home” played in May after winning praise at the Sundance Film Festival. “If you were on this train with hundreds of migrants around us — it stinks, it’s dirty and everyone’s trying to survive, just to see their kids.”
In 2006 Mr. Fan and a skeleton crew of three began documenting the effects of industrial change on this family, with whom he spent three years, on and off.
Mr. Zhang and Ms. Cheng left their village in Sichuan — Mr. Fan’s home province and the country’s largest exporter of labor — to work in Guangzhou, the world’s largest manufacturing source of denim jeans. The film cuts between the factory Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I reviewed the wonderfully made documentary “Last Train Home” and highly recommended it. To celebrate the film’s screening at the prestigious Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 26th & 29th, the following is my email interview with the film director Lixin Fan. My questions are in bold, follow by his answers.
1) From what I could tell, the film was filmed, at least, in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Was I right? How many trips did you make to China and how many hours of raw footage did you end up shooting? What equipment did you use to shoot the film?
We’ve done seven filming in China ranging from a few months to a few weeks in the course of three years. We have roughly 300 hr of raw footage shot over three different cameras – DVCPRO 50, and then small handheld HD cameras Panasonic HVX-200 and Sony EX-1
2) How did you come to select the Zhang family to feature? Did you know them before? Were you worry, at any point, that they might pull out from the documentary project? Tell me more please.
I traveled to city of Guangzhou for my research where I visited many factories. I strolled around these factory neighborhoods and talked to the workers I met. I didn’t know the Zhangs before. When I first met the them, they were cautious about discussing their family lives, but I revisited them many times in the following weeks and we became friends. I wanted to film with them because I think their story of migrating for nearly two decades. Their story represents the lives of millions and also touches upon many complicated social issues that China is experiencing.
3) The scene where the parents fought with Qin was very hard to watch but ultimately very important to tell the story. Can you tell me what you were thinking at the time? Was it tough for you and the sound person to keep shooting?
The moment the father hit the daughter, I as in another room, my cameraman was shooting. I heard the shouting and came to the scene, and went into the frame to calm everyone down. A that point, I asked myself, shall I put down the camera or shall I capture this emotional moment to give the film a stronger narrative to reach a larger audience and eventually create changes? In such a conflict of ethics versus professionalism, everyone is challenged to make a sensible decision. I chose the greater good, but very importantly, not at the cost of creating harms. The Chinese believe that the world in which we live is not a world of black and white. As the Taoism’s yin and yang philosophy explains: every action creates a counteraction as a natural and unavoidable movement. Also, as the Taoijitu diagram shows, there is black in white, and also white in black.
4) Have all the family members in the film seen the film yet? If you have, what were their reactions? In particular, what was Qin’s reaction? If not, do you plan to show it to them?
I went back to Guangzhong at end of last year to show the film in Guangzhong Documentary Film Festival. The couple still works in that city. My crew member and I visited the Zhang couple again and wanted to show them the film (Qin is working in another province and I didn’t meet her.) The Zhangs couple is quite happy to see us coming back to visit, but they preferred to watch the film by themselves. I respected their choice and gave them a DVD of the film. After watching the film, the father told me it made him sad to watch three years of their life on the screen; and the mother told me till this day she still couldn’t understand why Qin hates them so much.
5) I understand your film will be premiering in Hong Kong International Film Festival and you will be attending the March 29th screening (which is sold out).
If my memory serves me, HKIFF will be your film’s Asia premiere, how do you feel about your film screening in Hong Kong,China?
I think it is a great honor to have Last Train Home to be premiered in the prestigious HKIFF. As a special part of China, freedom and democracy are more generously allowed than in mainland. HK is a city known as the financial power house for Asia therefor. It’s an important link in the global trade chain. I’m curious to see how would the HK audience find the film in their own context.
6) Do you keep in touch with the Zhang family? In particular, Qin? The film certainly ended on a note that the audiences are worried about Qin. And knowing how slippery that the slope she was standing, I am worried about her. Do you have an update on Qin?
Yes, I still keep a close relationship with the Zhang family. I often call the couple to ask about the updates in life and at work. The couple went back to the New Year this time. The mother told me that Yang (the boy) got a number one in his class this year. Monther spent eight month at home caring the boy and fields. The father told me business in their factory is picking up since the economic is bettered from last year. So, once again, both the mother and father are about to leave home for work after the New Year.
The mother also told me Qin called to say happy new year but she didn’t came back home. Apparently she found work in a hotel at a small city in Hubei province. She’s 20 years of age this year, and I think she is definitely claiming her independence from her parents now.
7) I may have other followup questions, but I will start with the above questions for now. Thanks a lot for answering my questions.
If I may add one small thing in the end, I’m working on my next film which is on environmental issues in China. China is currently building a Wind Farm on Gobi desert and aim to complete the project in the next 10 years. The wind energy produced by the Wind Farm is going to be exceed that of Three Gorges Dam, and therefore, named “Three Gorges on Land.” Besides documenting China’s effort to focus on and implement green energies, I want to explore the balance between industrial development and nature sustainability through the philosophy of Taoism; for example, how much control human should place on nature; how far we can go in developing our society as the expense of exploiting the environment, etc
“Last Train Home” Review – 130 million Chinese migrant workers making inexpensive “Made in China” goods possibleThursday, 18 March, 2010
The 2010 Sundance & SXSW screened and award-winning documentary “Last Train Home” is starting its screenings at Calgary Globe theatre tomorrow Friday March 19, 2010. The film will also be screened in the HKIFF on March 26th & 29th.
To me, Last Train Home indirectly exposed to us the heart, soul & meaning of those inexpensive “Made in China” goods and the human cost/impact of these goods through the eyes of one Chinese migrant family. Last Train Home is a film that I greatly enjoyed and found extremely touching and insightful.
In the beginning of the film, the viewers are informed that,
“There are over 130 million migrant workers in China. They go home only once a year, during Chinese New Year. This is the world’s largest human migration.“
Last Train Home is the debut film by Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan and he has done a wonderful job in telling an emotionally engaging story and the film was beautifully shot. As a documentary filmmaker myself, I watched the film three times over different days before I write this review. And I enjoyed the film more as I watched it.
I came away with the intense feeling that it is the Chinese migrant workers’ rights to improve their living standards, no matter how harsh it may seem to us Westerners. Yes, it came with a price, sometimes the prices can be very high. But, as I get older, I am reluctant to be judgemental and pronounce the western ways are the “best” for Chinese or other citizens of the world. There isn’t a single way to pursue a better life.
A great documentary makes us think and want to talk about the various issues discussed or not discussed in the film and it will make us care about the people in the film. Using these yardsticks, Last Train Home has succeeded and is definitely a great documentary. By chance, the film included one of the worst winters in recent Chinese New Years where train and bus services were seriously disrupted. And that added some urgency into the film.
There is one scene (when the parents had an argument with their child) in the film that shaken and touched me at the same time. As a documentary filmmaker, I kept asking myself, what would I have done if I were filming in the same situation? I finally came to the “uneasy” but “responsible” rationale that supported my instinct. I would have done the same thing and kept filming like Lixin. There was a story to be told and because of the trusting relationship that was built over months, it was ok to keep shooting.
By the way, please see the bottom of this blog entry where you can read an excerpted analysis/discussion by my economist friend Dr. Zhaofeng Xue (薛兆丰) about the problems associated with the Chinese New Year transportation nightmares (“春运综合症”).
Here is an excerpt from the synopsis of the film,
Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos, as all at once, a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.
Last Train Home, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in this desperate annual migration.
Here is a trailer of the film for the famous SXSW,
Economics analysis/discussion re chaos with train transportations around the Chinese New Years (“春运综合症”)
My friend Dr. Zhaofeng Xue (薛兆丰) has written for more than 10 years about the problems associated with the Chinese New Year transportation nightmares. In Feb 2010, he wrote about this topic again in this Chinese blog entry, “火车票低价造成了举国浪费“. Very insightful stuff if you read Chinese. Here is an excerpt,
Zhaofeng received his Phd from George Mason University and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Northwestern University School of Law. Here is a link to my congratulatory message to Zhaofeng when his book about antitrust was published in 2008.
Sundance sensation “Last Train Home“, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, is having an advance screening tonight in Calgary (7pm, March 3rd, Eau Claire) arranged by Calgary International Film Festival.
“Last Train Home” will have its wide release in Calgary later this month on March 19th at the Globe Theatre. I will post my review of the film before the wide release. This is a great film, go and enjoy it.
Here is a trailer of the film for the famous SXSW,