Fan Lixin, the award-winning documentary maker, answered questions about his film Last Train Home at HKU on Monday.
The question and answer session followed a screening of his moving account of one family’s journey home from Guangzhou in Guangdong Province to Huilong village in Sichuan.
The film follows the Zhang family as they struggle with the problems caused by urbanizsation: the separation of parents and children, sweatshop labour, lack of unemployment benefit, China’s reliance on exports and cross generation divides.
Fan’s first feature length film followed the family for two years and contains heart wrenching scenes of the treadmill life of working in a clothing factory juxtaposed with the tranquil, but equally hard, village life that younger generations are turning their backs on.
The documentary leaves the viewer asking how much better life really is in the city, and questioning what development is doing to the Chinese family.
One student who watched the film said she found it so truthful it had made her cry. Another wondered what a Western audience would make of it.
Fan explained why he wanted to look at the plight of some of the 130 million migrant workers in China.
“I wanted to tell the migrant story because I wanted to give them a voice. These families are contributors to the Chinese miracle.”
His film showed how this miracle is affecting everyday life and tearing apart families.
Questions from the floor included whether he had prompted any of the scenes.
He said he had not: “I hate to say I was lucky with this film, but yes, I was.”
Fan shot 300 hours in high definition. He explained his camera work and how he’d used a sole camera to film scenes of chaos at Guangzhou railway station. He revealed how he built up a relationship with the family in order to be able to film them in such a relaxed, and sometimes raw, way.
He talked about the ethical dilemmas involved in showing a scene in which Qin, the couple’s teenage daughter, has a fight with her father and screams at the camera.
Fan was visiting Hong Kong for the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The subject of his next documentary is the largest wind farm in the world, which is under construction in the Gobi Desert in Gansu province in western China. If it’s anything like this film, it will be one to watch.