Chinese Train Doc Leaves Tracks at Sundance, Stirs Criticism at Home

Fan Lixin, director of Last Train Home (Photo by Nan Chalat Noaker/Park Record)

One of the most acclaimed films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is Last Train Home by Lixin Fan. Already the Best Feature Film winner at last November’s International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Last Train Home chronicles a migrant-worker couple in Guangzhou trying to get on a train back to Sichuan to see their kids during the Chinese New Year, the busiest and most impossible travel period in China. Ella Taylor of NPR calls it her “favorite film of the festival, bar none… Watching this devastating portrait of a family trying to glue itself back together, you wonder how China, on its way to becoming the world’s richest nation, will avoid civil war if it doesn’t also attend to the needs of the millions of poverty-stricken families like this one.”

More info (including backlash from China) and video trailer after the break.

An interview with Nan-Chalat Noaker of the Park City Record reports Fan’s desire for the film to “help to put a human face on the exploitation of migrant workers in China:”

The problem, he says, stems from the United States’ and China’s mutual addictions. The U.S., he says, wants ‘cheap stuff’ while China is trying to satiate a need for jobs for its enormous population.

“It is a very complicated dynamic that involves migrant workers, private business owners, the government and international corporations,” he explained.

Calling the film “a documentary masterpiece” Brian Brooks of IndieWire also interviews Li and gives an overview of his career, including his work on To Live is Better Than To Die, a documentary on AIDS in China that also appeared in Sundance.

Conversely, Fan, who now lives in Canada, has been criticized in China for the involvement of non-Chinese production and funding support in his work. Danwei.org translates a Southern Weekly report by Li Hongyu that accounts for the film’s budget:

The plan [to then make the documentary] was favored and in the end was awarded funding from the Canadian government, funding from the cultural department of Quebec, funding from the Amsterdam International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival funding and the support of US independent TV ITVS. Together with the prior purchase of broadcasting rights by the UK’s Channel 4, France’s TV5 and a fee-charging HD TV station in Canada, Last Train Home filming budget reached one million dollars. For many Chinese filmmakers, this amount is quite extravagant.

Fan answers this criticism, and addresses several other questions, in his interview with Li Hongyu.

Tags: , , , ,