SXSW FILM 2010
By Dirk Sonniksen | March 22, 2010
Director: Lixin Fan
The Zhangs work in a factory in China making garments destined for the United States and beyond. They will return to their farm only once a year, during Chinese New Year, to see their two children Qin and Yang. The Zhangs decided years ago to go to work in the factories so their children would have the opportunity to go to school, a chance few have growing up in the Chinese countryside. But while the Zhangs toil away in the factory, their daughter Qin spends her days resenting her parents decision to leave her and younger brother Yang behind. Ultimately Qin makes a decision that will change her life and put her relationship with her family in peril.
Last Train Home is a look at the largest human migration on Earth, with workers fighting for a ticket aboard cramped trains that will take them home to their families for a brief visit. The hardships they endure, not only in the squalid environment of the factories, but even on the journey itself, are unparalleled. Fan gives us an image of Chinese life that runs contrary to what western and Chinese media often present to the public. This is a China that essentially forces its people to work in horrible conditions, taking them hundreds of miles from their families to eke out a pitiful existence and save every penny they make so that their offspring might someday rise above the madness of this harrowing migration.
This film was an emotional experience for me. I had trouble wrapping my brain around what these people endure. The fact that I am the recipient of many of the goods produced in China, and that the people who make them are treated with such disrespect, made me rethink my role as a consumer. At the same time, my purchasing power is what allows these people to continue to make enough money to send at least some of their children to school. Couple that with the turbulence in the life of the Zhangs, a family that is seemingly on the edge of collapse, and I just about fell apart by the end of this film…but in a good way.
Last Train Home is a fantastic documentary that everyone should see. Lixin Fan filmed the Zhangs for three years to make this documentary, apparently with the family completely at ease with his work during the duration of filming, an extraordinary feat indeed. Last Train Home will break your heart, anger you, and ultimately make you question the role of globalization within western society and the hardships these Chinese migrants must endure for our benefit.
Last Train Home won Best Feature-Length Documentary at the 2009 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.