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Live Chat with Filmmaker

Filmmaker Lixin Fan talked with viewers about Last Train Home, filming the Zhang family and the lifestyles of Chinese migrant workers.



POV: We'll be getting starting shortly... If you have questions for Last Train Home director Lixin Fan, get them in early!

POV: We're just about to get started with Lixin Fan, the director of Last Train Home. We'll be moderating your questions and comments, so they won't appear immediately, but we will be able to see them all and we will get to as many as we can!

POV: Hello, Lixin! Welcome to this live chat with POV viewers.

Lixin: Hello, everyone. Greetings from Beijing!

POV: I know it's very late in China, so thanks for staying up!

Lixin: Not a problem, it’s still much better than filming at the train station.

POV: There's no way we can get to all of our viewers' comments, but here are a few from Twitter before our first question...

Comment From @TheAntO (Twitter)
brilliant! Moving! Perfect!

Comment From @melissadavlin (Twitter)
Brilliant view into China's migrant workers' lives.

Comment From @SuperDigiMom (Twitter)
@povdocs very impacting, couldn't stop watching it long enough to tweet, tough generational gap, I could so feel for both parents and kids

Lixin: Thanks a lot, thank all you.

POV: And that last comment is a good segue to our first question.

Comment From Tom
How did you decide to focus on the Zhang family when you could have had millions of other subjects for the film?

Lixin: The mass migration in China is indeed a complex topic to make a film about, I spent much time trying to find a good way to tell a simple story of it.

Lixin: It took me about 2 years to get myself familiar with the topic and I went to the industrial city of Guangzhou to look for a subject for my film.

Lixin: I walked from factory to factory, talking to dozens of migrants. They come from different part of the country but share similar life stories.

Lixin: I believe the Zhang's experience in the past 16 years working away from home can represents the stories of millions.

Lixin: Through their story, we can see many aspects of a Chinese migrant life.

Lixin: The Zhang's have been migrating for over a decade so their story can help us go back a long way to see a deeper reason of the mass migration, they also have children back in the village which allows us to look at the impact of migration on the change of traditional family. But in the end, I think I still have to take a risk to decide to follow them as I didn't know what would happend in 3 years of filming.

Comment From Patrick
Is it common for both parents to leave a family or were the Zhangs an anomaly?

Comment From Bijindesu2
The family owns farmland, why can't they just be farmers and self sufficient?

Lixin: In the past, it’s very difficult to make enough money to support a family as agriculture is being exploited to give ways for the country’s industrial development.

Lixin: Life conditions in rural China can be very tough, thus most peasant families wants their children to go to school in hoping education can change their fate.

Lixin: For the first generation of migrants, they leave home to seek for industrial jobs to make money to send back home to support their family and children’s schooling.

Lixin: Young people who grew up in the countryside are also lured by the exciting city life thus also wish to go see for themselves. Countryside life in China doesn’t necessarily mean quiet and tranquil, it can also mean harsh condition and tough work.

Lixin: Everyone could have a fantasy for the industrial prosperity before they had it, I guess that's why all the young people who grew up in the countryside wish to go to work in the city.

Comment From Justin L.
What is the typical breakdown of a migrant workers salary? What percent goes back to the family in the country and what percentage are they left with to live on?

Lixin: I don’t have a precise breakdown of how much they send back and keep for themselves.

Lixin: However, as I knew that most of the migrant only leave a bare minimum of what they need to sustain themselves in the city.

Lixin: The father makes around 3000 RMB (460 US) a month if he works close to 10 hr a day for at least 25 days, he keeps roughly 500 RMB for himself.

Lixin: I hope that gives us a bit of apicture of the "break down".

POV: Justin, you can also find more information about migrant worker salaries and working conditions on the POV companion site for Last Train Home at http://www.pbs.org/pov/lasttrainhome/photo_gallery_background.php?photo=4

POV: We have a lot of questions about the Zhang family…

Comment From Patti
What is Qin up to now? Does the family even know?

Comment From Bijindesu2
What happened to the young girl now?

Lixin: Qin left the bar job shortly after we finished our filming in early 2009. She drifted to other provinces to find different jobs just like millions of young migrants.

Lixin: The young generation has high hopes than their parents, they not just want to make money to send home, they also want to enjoy the city life and to find more opportunities to develop themselves.

Lixin: Qin later decided to go back to school as she starts to realize education is probably the best way to get her a better job and life. She is now studying in a vocational school in Beijing.

Comment From Caroline G.
Hello, I was very moved by your documentary and I was wondering if you can tell me how the family in your show is doing now? How is the father's health?

Lixin: The father still works at the same factory in Guangzhou making a bit of salary as the country wage level has increased since after 2008.

Lixin: Still, he sends most of his salary back to support the family. I went to see him about a month ago; he has aged a little bit since I last saw him about a year ago but he is in good health when we met.

Lixin: The mother went back home to take care of the boy, Yang. Yang got into a very good high school in his town and he's doing great in his class. He even had a number 1 last semester.

Lixin: by that I mean he was the top at his class.

POV: We have more updates from Lixin Fan about the Zhang family on the companion site for Last Train Home at http://www.pbs.org/pov/lasttrainhome/film_update.php

Comment From Eileen
Regarding Qin and Zhang's education. Did they have any real role models showing a path out of the factory worker career path? Their parents continue to tell the children to study for a better future, still did the children ever see or talk to someone who had accomplished what their parents wanted? There is mention of an uncle who went to university but nothing more. Thank you.

Lixin: I had a silmar question myself while we were filming with the family. In fact, their role model is the kid’s uncle who studied in university and went to work for the government.

Lixin: Every New Year dinner, we hear the mother telling Qin and Yang: You should learn from your uncle! He studied hard and entered university. You should both learn after him and go find work and live in the city someday.

Lixin: Even after Qin became a factory worker, the mother still tried to persuade her to go back to school so she can still have a chance to get higher education and a decent job in the city.

Lixin: Also, in the filming, the parentes used my crew members as role models to educate the kid.

Lixin: But in fact, as a documentary filmmaker, I was always conscious that I'm not supposed to have an impact on what my subject would think and do. So we tried not to lecture the kids as the parents hoped us to.

Comment From Michael
I thought this was an excellent documentary and wanted to know how the film has been received in China. Did it touch a nerve?

Lixin: We had been very luck to show this film in cinema in China, and the audience feedback was very good.

Lixin: Many audience said the film was very truthful and touch, showed them a unseen side of the lives of migrant workers, who work and live in the same city as they live. Many audience aslo had experience to travel during the Chinese New Year, they said they couldn't even imaging it could be so hard for the migrant workers to just travel home to see their families.

Comment From John Tsang
I share with you the importance of showing the darker side of the economic growth in China. Without such critique, little improvement can be expected from the Government to improve their welfare. The overzealous pressure from the parents on the children's academic performance has led to tragedy or at least undesirable results.

Lixin: Aside from showing in the cinema in Beijing, Last Train Home has also been a part of the Sundance's Film Forward program to travel to different cities in China to have screenings in many universities.

Lixin: I had an interesting question form a young student at Wuhan University in central China. The young man questioned my motive behind making a film about the darker side of my own country.

Lixin: I have to say, to me, it appears to be more of less a "patriotic" question. As the Chinese government strives to achieve an economic advancement, the control over its people is still tight.

Lixin: The patriotic education of the Chinese people, especially the young people, could be used as a means to prove the government's legitimacy.

Comment From Caroline
How has the Chinese Government responded to the plight of these worker's since the Economic Turmoil since 2008?

Lixin: The Economic Turmoil since 2008 has definitely cost a lot of problem for the Chinese government as much as it did to other counties. Beijing put on table a big stimulus package, and much of it goes to construction sector which is very labor intensive.

Lixin: It abolished the agriculture tax around that time to allow more room for the farmers to breath, and also started to invest more in the covering the warfare of rural population.

Lixin: The wage level of labor job in China has also been risen.

POV: We are almost out of time with our guest, Lixin Fan, so we have a final comment, then our last question.

Comment From Kathy Provencher Packard
I came away from the film thinking... 'And we complain here in America' about our roads and having to wait and some of our living conditions? I wondered why they didn't all stay on the farm where it was peaceful and tranquil. Still work, but the farm life seemed easier than the factory life. The grass is not always greener on the other side!

Comment From Mike
How did you manage to get a seat on that train?!

Lixin: Good question. I was asking that question too when I first decided to make this film.

Lixin: So in the first year, we had to try to book tickets around the festival travel dates much in advance and wait to see which day the Zhang's would get their tickets. They can't book their's in much advance because they don't even know when the factory would start their holiday.

Lixin: So when the Zhang's finally got their tickets, we would have already got the same day tickets, so it's just a matter of buying it in much advance when there are still tickets.

POV: We'll have to end the Q&A here.

POV: Thank you all for joining us today.

POV: And thank you, Lixin, for joining us from Beijing -- with a 12-hour time difference!

Lixin: Good bye everyone, thank you all again for joining us here.

POV: If we didn't get a chance to ask your question or post your comment, please post it again at POV's companion site for Last Train Home at http://www.pbs.org/pov/lasttrainhome/ or on POV's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/povdocs.

POV: In addition to being able to watch the film, you'll find deleted scenes and a list of recommended documentaries about China at http://www.pbs.org/pov/lasttrainhome/.

POV: Thanks again for your questions and comments. This chat will be archived so you can replay it at anytime. Bye!





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Remarkable... Fan has visual panache — Last Train Home has some gorgeously composed shots — but he also has something that can’t be taught: The patience and understanding to allow a family to tell their heartbreaking story in their own way...”

— G. Allen Johnson,
San Francisco Chronicle