In September 2011, Last Train Home director Lixin Fan provided the latest news on the Zhang family and the film's reception in China.
POV: 'Last Train Home' has now been seen by audiences in America, both in theaters and now on PBS. Can you tell us what the reaction has been among U.S. viewers?
Lixin Fan: Last Train Home was released in theaters in the United States last September and the film was very well received. They were very kind, and concerned about the family in the film. After watching, they told me it was an eye-opening experience to see a real-life story of a Chinese migrant family that reflects the plight of many millions. The audience also said that the story showed another side of China, which is often portrayed by the mainstream media as a rising superpower.
I was inspired to see American audiences telling me they will be cautious and mindful when they buy products made in China, and re-think the consumer lifestyle they are living.
POV: The film is now screening in China as well. How have reactions among Chinese viewers differed from those of Americans?
Lixin Fan: The film has also been well received in the mainland. So far, we have been showing the film in only one art-house cinema in Beijing. We are indeed very lucky to be approved by the Chinese state film authority and to be able to show the film untouched.
Chinese audiences have also been very concerned about how the family is doing. Aside from that, they are all very touched by the perseverance of the couple and the migrant workers, in general. Most of the audiences have had the experience of traveling during the Chinese New Year. Still, they were shocked by the train station scenes depicted in the film.
Not a lot of them think of the global context of the film, but many are deeply sympathetic to the migrant workers. We even had one very kind lady from Beijing (whose last name is Teng) commit to pay for the education of the young boy in the family after viewing the film.
Last Train Home was also a part of the Sundance Film Forward program, which takes independent films and filmmakers to underserved audiences around the globe. Our destinations in mainland China included Beijing, Wuhan and Xi'an. We showed the film to university students in these cities, and the young people loved it. Many of the students come from the countryside, so they share a similar life to the one depicted in the film. Some were very emotional after watching the film and some had differing views. I was asked by a student in Wuhan about why I would want to make a film showing the downside of my own country. Of course, I couldn't agree and I didn't want to give a simple answer, but it's interesting to see such a question being raised by a young student who has enjoyed 20-some years of economic prosperity and a patriotic education.
POV: When we last saw Qin, the daughter, she was working in the city and had broken off from her family. Can you tell us where Qin is today and anything about her current relationship with her family?
Lixin Fan: I last saw Qin earlier this year in Beijing. She traveled to another province to find work after our filming. She's a very typical young-generation migrant. Unlike their parents' generation, they are more educated and want more. They are no longer satisfied with low-wage and repetitive-labor work, so they migrate to where they can have more opportunity and, perhaps, a more exciting life. Growing up, and now being a young woman, she has realized education will probably do her well in the long run. We helped her find a vocational school and she is now studying in Beijing. Sadly, Qin still can not forgive her parents for what they have done, and she doesn't want to call them.
POV: What's happened to the rest of the family, the parents and the son?
Lixin Fan: The mother realized there was a better way to show love and caring toward her children than leaving home all year long for work and sending money back. She quit her job and returned to the village.
The boy, Yang, entered a good middle school in his hometown, and the mother is taking care of him at home.
The father had to stay in Guangzhou — in fact, at the same factory as we saw in the film, working longer hours to make money to send home to support the entire family. As we are putting Last Train Home in Chinese cinemas, we are contacting the father to make T-shirts with the film's logo on it, and we want to sell them after our screenings. All of the income will go to the family to support the boy and the grandma.
POV: What are you are working on next?
Lixin Fan: I'm in China, mainly to work on the release of the film in Chinese theaters, as putting documentary film onto the big screen is quite a new thing here. Aside from that, I wish to keep my focus on the young generation of migrant workers, like Qin and her peers. As I mentioned, they are similar but also a different group than their parents. They have come out to live and work in the city at a much younger age and many of them have formed an urban identity. They want more freedom and more of a consumer lifestyle, but will China be rich and generous enough to provide that to these many millions? This is what I wish to continue to document.