[this report just in after the first public screenings in China of Last Train Home]
I landed in Guangzhou around midnight, in order to attend the GZDOC festival and meet up with the Zhangs (the husband and wife who are in Last Train Home). I took a taxi went down to meet them, and we had dinner together at a nearby restaurant. The Zhangs are still the same, but they both look very tired. The mom has come back to the factory again a few months back because the dad can’t make enough money to sustain them. The parents donâ€™t know exactly where their daughter Qin is these days. Qin went back to the village for her little brother’s birthday in October. She left again, letting her grandmother know that she will be working in a copy store Wuhan city, although Iâ€™m not sure if thatâ€™s true or not. The mom had spent several month living back in their home village, but has returned to Guangzhou to work in the factory with her husband.Â A vicious cycle. However, one nice thing the mom can’t wait to share with us is that Yang (little brother) ranked 1st in his class this year.
The screenings at GZDOC went well. We had five public screenings in cinemas in downtown and in universities. Most of our audience is made up of university students. We have very good feedback from the young Chinese crowd. They all loved the film. One student told me after the film that he was crying the whole movie since he came from countryside, and he knows exactly what the family has been through. The Chinese have similar questions as what I have from the western audiences. First they are all very concerned about where is Qin now and how is the family, then they will go on ask about the logistics of filming and how did we treated the relationship with the subjects. They also liked the intimacy between the family and the crew. One student asked if the film crew triggered the tension and altered Qin’s life. My answer is as a filmmaker I would say we have a minor indirect effect on what the subject will do but this is way less than having any real impact on affecting how they want to act in life. So the answer is NO, I don’t think we changed their life cause per se.
I gave a panel talk with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang (The Blood of YingZhou) and another renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang YiQing. We talked about “China In A Foreign Lens”. We discussed interesting differences between how the west perceives China and how Chinese react to these perceptions. One point being raised by a political professor also at the panel is that one film is just a slice of history, we should always put our perception into a international and historical context to be self-reflected and examined.
A few years back when I showed To Live Is Better Than To Die (a film about Chinaâ€™s AIDS problem) to my friends, the question that every Chinese person asks: is this a film for or against China? I’m very happy that there are only a few people who asked me this question this time, and they asked me only when I was off stage. I will report more as the release continues.