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Following the remarkable journey of Mr. and Mrs. Xu, an elderly Chinese farming couple, on a forced relocation by the government’s mammoth South-to-North Water Diversion Project. Lyrical and intimate, the film brings us into the life of two compelling peasants facing major disruption late in life. It continues the story where other documentaries left off – after the people have been relocated and have to re-build their lives, and offers a direct experience of the collision between traditional culture and modernization, through which we see the imminent extinction of Old China as New China emerge.
Several Canadian documentaries have chronicled the mammoth social, economic, financial, and physical changes that are dramatically transforming China.
Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze follows a tourist cruise toward the environmentally controversial Three Gorges Dam project.
Lixin Fan's Last Train Home followed the annual migration of workers in China returning home for Lunar New Year.
In Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes, she films Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky as he photographs landscapes around the world, including China, that are radically altered, to the point of becoming unrecognizable as earthly, by industry and production.
The latest documentary to follow in this area of study is Jane Hui Wang's Last Harvest.
The film follows and elderly Chinese couple displaced by the massive South to North Water Diversion Project. Among the 800,000 people who the government forces to move (while approximately 250,000 acres of faming land is lost to submersion), the film zeroes in on the personal story of the Xu family.
At the Whistler Film Festival, Wang collected two awards—the best world documentary award and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA award for best female-directed documentary—for her film at an awards ceremony on December 6.
At the event, Wang told the Georgia Straight that she became unexpectedly inspired to make the film after she met the couple.
"I didn't set out to make a film about relocation but I was doing some research in their village and then I met the couple and it's who they are that really, really moved me and I fell in love with them right away, especially Mr. Xu," she said. "He was an extremely trusting, generous, honest, kind person and so I just saw that I really wanted to make a film of his experience of before and after relocation. He was just a beautiful human being so he was the reason why I made the film."
Wang said she also learnt a lot about parts of China she was unfamiliar with.
"I grew up in China in the big city so I didn't know anything about rural culture, traditional farming, so making this film has told me a lot about the way of living there…which is quite different from city culture. So it's definitely a very emotional and also a great learning process to me personally."
Craig Takeuchi - The Georgia Straight
Like an estimated 800,000 others, Mr. and Mrs. Xu faced involuntary relocation to make way for another of China’s epic efforts to address the country’s water crisis: in this case, the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, the largest of its kind ever undertaken. An elderly couple, their meagre livelihood tied to land farmed for generations in the small village of Tutai in central China’s Hubei province, the Xus nevertheless led an independent life, rich in scenic value within close proximity to their grown children, neighbours and ancestral cemeteries; strong in the belief that, surrounded by trees, mountains and streams: “Here, we have everything.”
In the “Last Harvest,” emerging Canadian-based film-maker, Jane Hui Wang, documents the days and months before and after the Xus’ resettlement journey as they pack up and tear down their farmland home (otherwise they’d be charged for its destruction) and move toward a dramatically different reality in a stark townhouse compound hundreds of kilometres away, egged on by propaganda slogans that cheer their sacrifice as necessary for the nation. A sacrifice that includes no dogs (the Xus must leave theirs behind*).
Although press coverage and expert analysis of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project have charted the geo-engineering giant’s various trials and tribulations in its dubious bid to move billions of cubic metres of water from the Yangtze River in the south, to the country’s arid north, the human cost of China’s penchant for radical social engineering is rarely told as intimately as it is here. The accounts of migrants’ experiences that we’ve come to know through media reports and interviews detailing withheld compensation money, diminished circumstances, loss of resources, livelihoods and community are writ large in “Last Harvest” through the eyes of the Xus.
Mr. Xu, in particular, is a compelling study of spirit under pressure; his humour and expressiveness a window to what so many experience but dare not challenge publicly in a political climate where resistance is met with oppression — although, that resistance is testing its muscle increasingly [as per China’s NIMBY environmental justice movement: read about it here].
Mr. Xu notes that policies regarding migrants have improved under the central government, which he describes as “thoughtful” toward ordinary Chinese, but says those policies fail at the local government level. Mr. Xu, filmed flipping through a propaganda handbook (each apartment has one), laments that the contents of these handbooks are not actually implemented.
After five months of resettlement, the Xus had not seen any of the compensation money they were pledged and Mr. Xu had run through various jobs at pig farms and lumber mills to make ends meet: work he cannot sustain owing to age. A plot of land the Xus were allotted for farming eventually materializes but is substantially inferior in quality to the “home” land that had supplied the Xus’ every need. Now, they must pay instead of make and grow. Everything in this new place, they quickly discover, comes at a cost.
Started in the summer of 2010 and finished in 2015, “Last Harvest” first aired at the Toronto-based Planet in Focus environmental film festival as the closing night screening on October 25, 2015. The film received its theatrical release on February 9, 2016, at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
* As the film progresses, dogs do begin to appear at the apartment complex.
Lisa Peryman - Probe International
Festival & Awards
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam - 2016
Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival - 2016
Closing Night Gala
Whistler Film Festival - 2015
World Documentary Award & Best Female-Directed Documentary Award
CNEX Chinese Documentary Forum
Tokyo TV Forum Award