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Film Review: Last Train Home

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Brett Kier
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Film Review: Last Train Home

Broadly, the film “Last Train Home” follows a family of migrant workers over an approximately 3 year period, as they struggle with issues of family separation, poverty, educational opportunity, and intergenerational alienation. The film can be utilized in the classroom in a number of ways, the two most straight forward of which are to show short clips, followed by think-pair-share classroom discussions; or give students a film question packet to review prior to watching the film, then complete the packet individually or in small groups. Ideally, some combination of both methods would be used. Questions that could be asked which reflect various depths of knowledge include:

  1. What is a migrant worker?
    1. Discuss push-pull factors of migration
    2. What do the migrants look like: clothing, age, sex, etc.?
  2. In the opening scene, what does the massive crowd of people remind you of? Have you seen a similar scene in the US or elsewhere? Why were the people gathered there? (Central and South American immigration, Bracero Program, etc.)
  3. Why do migrant workers decide to travel great distances to work?
    1. What groups of people do you know from our previous discussions that travel great distances to work?
  4. How does migration labor affect the families of migrant workers?
  5. What are their living and working conditions?
    1. Elicit observation from students that children are sleeping on top of tables where sewing is done.
  6. Has anyone’s family come to live in the US for better job opportunities?
    1. Has anyone travelled from another country? By train, foot, plane, etc.?
  7. They go back home only once a year. Can you think of another job where the workers get to go back home after 1 year (or longer)? (Military)
  8. Who works on the farm, who works in factories, who goes to school, which takes care of the children? (3 generations)
  9. What are the names of the people shown in the film, and what is their relationship to one another?
  10. Do you know of anyone that left school (high school or college) in order to make money for the family?
  11. Do you have family members that you only see once a year (around the holidays)? Why?
  12. What does it mean when the mother says: “A peasant’s child must work hard. Otherwise you will end up like us.”?
  13. Question about how difficult it is to break the cycle that is playing out among the parents and children.
  14. Ask clarifying questions about events of the film to check for understanding of the general story line:
    1. How do you think X feels about what is happening to their family?
  15. After the mother decides to go back home to the farm to look after her son, and the father stays to work at the factory, what do you think happens to the family in the coming years?
Dennis O'Connell
Topic replies: 70
Topic Posts: 4
Last Train Home, Film Review and How to use with Younger Student

Directed by Lixin Fan, Last Train Home follows a migrant family of workers for about three years.  With over 130 million Chinese from rural areas working in cities, the largest human migration in history occurs each Chinese New Year as migrant workers seek to get home to celebrate this holiday with the families they left behind.  The movie follows one family and  does a wonderful job of drawing you into their world.  You are able to see their work in the city and the rural life they left behind.  The movie does not need much dialogue at the  beginning as it introduces you to the characters and how their lives are unfolding.  Many of the scenes show the mass of humanity and  the lengths they will go in pursuit of things important to them.  As the movie progresses, however, there is more dialogue which helps you understand what the characters are thinking and feeling.  Throughout the film, you can feel the tensions which are pulling at the family.  At the end of the film, you wonder if the tensions have become too much and have actually torn the  family apart.  Immediately after seeing the film, I watched the US trailer in the  Extras.  One of the film reviewers said that the movie is "Haunted and Haunting".  This is a fair description as I felt I had lingering feelings about the family, their struggles, and the solutions they were seeking.  The theme of this movie will stay with me for a long time. 

As to how I would use this with students, particularly ones in Elementary School, I would show clips which draw out the elements I want to emphasize.  I would then have the  students do short activities.  I would proceed to the next clips and the relevant activities. In this way, the class could "see" much of the movie, but without needing to watch the whole thing.  Going in order, here are some of the elements I would tease out of the movie: 1) Show clips of urban scenes (factory work, crowds at train station, city scenes of smog and street signs and bustle of people) followed by scenes from the family's rural farm (walking through fields, feeding livestock, harvesting crops, eating meals together).  Have students compare and contrast city life to rural life.  Have students concentrate not only on what they see in the film clips, but also on what they hear!  2) Show clip when the couple goes to buy train tickets, the price is given to them of 262 Yuan for two tickets.  Have students calculate how much it costs for one ticket.  How much does it cost for five tickets?  Also, with an exchange rate (currently 1 US dollar is about 7 Chinese Yuan Renminbi) what is the price of a ticket in US dollars?  3) Show clips as the family travels home for the first time (you could also mix in scenes from future trips so students will see train, boat, bus, walking).  Have the students identify and discuss what modes of transportation the family took to go such a long distance.  What difficulties did the family encounter?  What feelings would you have if you had to make such a journey?  4) Show clips of the movie where the parents/grandparents are talking to the children about the importance of education.  Have students discuss what kinds of pressures are on the students to do well in school.  Why are the parents putting this pressure on the students?  Is this pressure fair?  5) Show clips of Qin burning spirit money for her departed grandfather and talking to him.  Show additional clips of mothers and sons at Buddhist shrine, burning incense and praying.  Ask the students what role religion played in the lives of the migrant workers.  6) Show clips of movie related to the World Financial Crisis of 2008.  Show empty factories and the dialogue of the workers.  Have students discuss how world events have a deep impact on individual people.  How were the migrants affected?  What would they have to do if they lost their jobs?  

Lastly, it would be interesting to hear student discussions surrounding their own experiences.  How many of them know their families came to US as migrants?  How many of them know their families are working hard so they have a better life?  Do they have pressures on them to do well in school?  What role does education have in their future well being?  

Christine Moguel
Topic replies: 61
Topic Posts: 9
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Relevant activities using films

"As to how I would use this with students, particularly ones in Elementary School, I would show clips which draw out the elements I want to emphasize.  I would then have the  students do short activities."

When teaching- the most effective ways of making content comprehensible is by making background connections of content to the students daily lives.  Even if they have not lived through migrating from one country to another, the students can recall parents, or relatives or family friends experience with this situation.  Recalling situations that are near to the experiences our students have had - is a good foundation for teaching empathy, cultural sensitivity,  and bridging the racial issues that our students might share and struggle with.  Movies are great beacuse they also give our students a visual storyline- with the setting and characters all depicted.    

Kathrin Simmons
Topic replies: 20
Topic Posts: 2
Last Train Home, Interview with Lixin Fan

Last train home is a really important documentary about the human toll chinese migration workers and their families have to endure. In an interview with Lixin Fan the filmmaker of "Last train home", explains his intentions and making of his documentary. "Last train home" documents the largest migration in the world, where yearly over 200 Million Chinese workers travel from the city to their hometowns in the country side to visit their families for Chinese new year. Lixin Fan and his team spend 3 years following a family, where the parents left their children behind with grandparents in the countryside, in order to earn money in the city and support everybody at home.

Living in Beijing, Lixin Fan, witnesses the growing gap between rich and poor also city life versus rural life. He describes that observing the lifes of mirgrant workers, having long labor hours, with low wages, no health care, and no pension encouraged him to make his documentation. Because the three years of filming material from observing this one family and their fleeing relationships with their own children "Last Train Home" becomes a very intimate and intense documentation about the harsh reality of disgrace and pain, many migration workers experience of being estranged from your own children. Money send from the city was not enough to support their children's well being and becoming educated adults, since they needed their parents presence, love and guidance above all.