Last Train Home, an award-winning documentary film about the effects of globalisation on Chinese families, is screening at the Bermuda Documentary Film Festival on Sunday.
Every spring, 130 million Chinese migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday – their only trip home all year – in the world’s largest human migration. Director Lixin Fan, formerly a television journalist at CCTV in China, spent time with the Zhang family as they journeyed to and from their home to their factory jobs hundreds of miles away. Sixteen years earlier, the Zhangs left their children with relatives to find work in the city. But in a bitter irony, the Zhangs’ hopes for the future are undone by their absence.
This intimate observation of their efforts to repair their ruptured family paints a human portrait of the dramatic changes sweeping China. The film won the Best Documentary Film award at International Documentary Film Amsterdam, widely considered the world’s top documentary festival, and shared the Best Feature award at the One World Media Awards.
Q: Why did you pick the plight of migrant workers in China as the subject of your first film? Has this issue touched your own life in some way?
Lixin: I was born to an average family. My father was a college professor and my mother was an accountant. I went to university in my hometown, so I never actually had a personal experience of migrating. Back in the days at CCTV when I travelled, I was constantly concerned and often grieved by the shocking poverty and misery across the country’s vast rural land, submerged under the glamour of the modern metropolis. I started to realise that the country’s millions of migrants, the very contributors to today’s prosperity, were denied many basic social necessities. They have to bear this great grief of constant separation from their loved ones. I decided I had to make a film to document this unique group against the backdrop of a changing country.