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UPDATED: February 20, 2012 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 23, 2012
A Migrant's Tale
Documentary peeks into the lives and struggles of China's migrant workers
By Yu Yan

In the lens

While the main focus is on the nerve-wracking experience most migrants face during the Spring Festival rush, the film dives deeper into other social problems affecting China's working masses, specifically the toll that living away from home has on parents and grandparents and their children.

So why do so many Chinese knowingly assume the life of a migrant worker?

"The major reason is the huge income gap between regions," said Su Hainan, Vice President of The China Association for Labor Studies.

China's economic layout is plagued by imbalances. In the east, jobs and a prominent career are possibilities that China's interior simply can't offer. As a result, a large number of workers have been attracted to more developed regions and urban centers.

The income gap, both between urban and rural areas and between regions, is widening at breathtaking speed. This has caused China's migrant population to mushroom in recent decades and put additional strains on family bonds.

Finding a venue

"I've realized the power of film since I was a child, because films shaped my world views and values," said Fan.

In three years, Fan accumulated 350 hours of film for Last Train Home, eventually editing it down to a 90-minute film.

Before the film was put on show in China, Fan sought cooperation with state-owned film distribution companies. However, the high production and promotion fees imposed by the distributors, some as high as 1 million yuan ($158,900), forced him away.

They had adopted an operation model for commercial films, which was not suitable for independent documentary-style films. They asked for high investment in promotion and advertising, which wasn't feasible for Fan's film.

As a result, Fan chose one cinema in each of the seven cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou to show the film. He made a deal with them that the cinema provided one theater to exclusively show the film during the Spring Festival.

Since the cities could not afford an art theater, where non-commercial films are shown, it was only feasible for them to create an art showroom in a commercial cinema.

Common affections

When Last Train Home was released two years ago, Fan traveled extensively to promote the film at each international release.

The film has promoted a broader understanding for China's 240 million migrant workers, garnering praise from critics and audience alike. The United States and China were so far apart that people of the two countries held different views on many issues. It was easy for them to have misunderstandings. Through film communication, the two sides can strengthen mutual understanding and promote their relationship, said Jill Miller, Managing Director of the Sundance Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1981 that advances the work of filmmakers and storytellers worldwide.

Documentary films could be a vehicle for foreigners to understand the Chinese people, because the human feelings, no matter the race, are common throughout the world, said Fan.

Email us at: yuyan@bjreview.com

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