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We Were SMART is a 2019 independent documentary by Li Yifan. The Chinese word shamate (杀马特, written in the film as SMART) is a homophonic appropriation of the English term “smart”. This word started appearing on the Chinese internet in the 2000s, referring to fashions associated with migrant workers in large cities. These fashions soon became an online group identity recognised by migrant workers themselves. We Were SMART explores the lives of those associated with SMART—primarily young factory workers—through conversations with, and footage shot by them. The film shows how the digital world created a safe space for collective identification and sense of community of this fascinating, under-explored sub-culture.

As part of China Week 2022, the Lau China Institute welcomes you to this film screening and panel discussion, including a virtual address and introduction by director Li Yifan.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring leading academic experts who will draw on key themes and takeaways from the film, sharing insights on migration trends in China, including the use of Internet as an escape among Chinese young migrant populations along with the importance of technology for the documentary and independent film sector. Finally, the audience will have a chance to engage in discussion with our panel during a Q&A session.

This event is held in partnership with the Chinese Independent Film Archive (CIFA) at Newcastle University.

About the director

Known as a director and a curator, Li Yifan was born in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in 1966. He graduated from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing in 1991. He is now living and working in Chongqing. His documentary Before the Flood, Chronicle of Longwang: A Year in the Life of a Chinese Viallage, won several international awards, including the Wolfgang Staudte Award at International Forum for New Cinema of Berlinale, the SCAM International Award at the Cinema du Reel, the Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize of the YIDFF of Japan, and the Humanitarian Award of the HKIFF.

About the speakers

Chris Berry is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London, and Co-Investigator of the AHRC-funded Chinese Independent Film Archive project (PI: Professor Sabrina Yu, University of Newcastle). He is also co-editor of The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record, as well as various other works on aspects of Sinitic-language cinema.

Xiaxia Yang joined the Lau China Institute as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Chinese Migration in 2021. Before coming to King’s, she got her PhD in geography from the University of Washington. Her dissertation looks at the exploitative age-selective process of internal migration in China in the reform era, i.e. only working-age adults are welcome to move whereas their child and elderly dependents are largely excluded. Her current research examines various disadvantages faced by migrants in China induced by the selective migration process and other related topics.

Chair: Giulia D’Aquila is a PhD Candidate in Chinese Studies and Communications and Events Coordinator at the Lau China Institute, King’s College London. Her current research focuses on the role that Chinese contemporary films play in the international relations between the UK and China.

About the Chinese Independent Film Archive (CIFA)

The Chinese Independent Film Archive (CIFA) is originated from an AHRC (UK Arts & Humanities Research Council) funded research project entitled ‘Independent Cinema in China: State, Market and Film Culture’ (2019-2024). The project is led by Principal Investigator Professor Sabrina Qiong Yu (Newcastle University), with Co-Investigators Professor Chris Berry (King’s College London) and Dr Luke Robinson (University of Sussex), and Research Associate Dr Lydia Dan Wu (Newcastle University). The archive aims not only to safeguard this film culture for future generations, but also act as an alternative record of social changes, historical traumas, and the lives of ordinary people in modern and contemporary China – a record not always easily accessible.

CIFA works closely with a large number of Chinese independent filmmakers and curators, as well as a range of industry partners and cultural institutions, such as Sheffield Doc/Fest and art cinemas in the UK, CNEX in China, and Fanhall in the USA, to raise the visibility of Chinese independent cinema and enhance the world’s understanding of China’s film industry and film culture in China. CIFA also works with scholars and universities around the world to advance the study of Chinese independent cinema and encourage the use of the collections at CIFA for research on, and the teaching of, modern and contemporary China.

At this event

Chris Berry

Professor of Film Studies

Xiaxia Yang

Research Associate in Chinese Migration

Event details