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Chinese Mass Migration At Sundance FF


After winning the top prize at the IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the world’s most prestigious showcase for non-fiction  film, the Canadian/UK co-production LAST TRAIN HOME is making a splash at its International Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Now the clear favorite for awards recognition in the World Cinema Documentary competition here, the film seems poised for a distribution deal.


LAST TRAIN HOME by director Lixin Fan is a beautifully shot, haunting and haunted large-scale portrait about an astonishing migration involving 130 million Chinese workers who each year travel by train, boat and foot to return home for New Year’s. Working in a classical documentary style, Mr. Fan, who was an associate producer on an earlier Sundance entry, UP THE YANGTZE, contrasts the enormity of this exodus with an intimate portrait of a single family who make the journey. The contrast between the parent work in the city and the children who live in the countryside with their aged grandmother, and their struggles to be reunited is a telling example of the rifts in the social and community work that threaten to undo the startling economic miracle of contemporary China.

 Fan, who is based now in Montreal, Canada, tells the story of the Zhang family, migrant workers who eke out a living in Guangzhou province, ground zero for China’s economic revolution. The Zhangs have long since left their two children behind with grandparents on the farm in order to make money as factory workers in the city. Their pledge to reunite the family is left as a shallow promise when it turns out that the distance, the years and a good dose of teen angst has given their daughter Qin some migratory plans of her own. 

The film not only illustrates the economic and family pressures that the new economic prosperity has wrought, but also illustrates the strong role of the government in all aspects of their citizens’ lives, including the train ride back to the country that is a mind-boggling ordeal that would have Westerners gasping at the lack of civility and creature comforts. That they do not criticize the government for their hardships is a telling illustration of how the idea of resistance is an alien one to most Chinese citizens.


Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor


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Ambiance from Park City Sundance film Festival January 19-29, 2012.

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