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Report on the Inaugural CIFA Screening and Research Seminar

Author: Xinyue Hu

26 February 2024

Time: 3pm – 6pm, 21 February 2024

Venue: CIFA Space (OLB 2.23), Newcastle University

Organisors: CIFA screening and research seminar committee


The inaugural CIFA screening and research seminar was successfully convened at the CIFA space, drawing an interdisciplinary audience comprised of over 20 staff members and postgraduate research students from 7 different schools, plus visitors from outside Newcastle University, like The University of Toronto. The seminar series, aimed to foster more academic collaboration and innovation, encourages research across various academic fields by using the rich cinematic resources collected within CIFA.

Central to this first seminar was an exploration of ‘Left-behind Children in Rural China’, illuminated through the screening of Jiang Nengjie’s documentary Children at a Village School (2014). Following the screening, attendees were treated to a five-minute excerpt from an interview with Jiang, conducted by Prof. Sabrina Yu and kept in CIFA, offering invaluable insights into his motivations and creative process behind the film.

The chair of this seminar, Xinyue Hu, a PhD student from the School of English Literature, provided a succinct overview of the current landscape concerning left-behind children in China. Hu underscored potential issues necessitating scholarly attention, setting the stage for an engaging discourse among attendees.

The attendees were thoroughly captivated by the film, with basically each member offering insightful perspectives during the discussion. Due to the word limit, here are some chosen representative points of view:

Carrie Poon, PhD specializing in film studies, expressed a keen interest in delving deeper into the censorship issues surrounding the film.

Jun Zhou, PhD student from the architecture school, mentioned the structural challenges inherent in the lives of left-behind children, particularly the imbalanced rural-urban dynamic. He expressed a strong interest to see more films addressing the experiences of parent migrant workers to further understand this complex interplay.

Lydia Wu, PhD in film studies, drew attention to the concept of the ‘social new countryside’. She mentioned how a young man draws beautiful pictures on the wall in a rural village, advocating for the transformative power of rural-urban relationship. Additionally, Wu emphasized the importance of constructing new countryside as a means of preserving rural communities and welcoming mass migration returns to their homes.

Man Xu, PhD student in sociology from the University of Toronto, offered a sociological perspective on the issue of left-behind children. She argued that the entrenched nature of left-behind children is the nuclear family structure and proposed the intriguing possibilities of exploring alternative family models. Xu also critiqued the education system presented in the film, highlighting its problematic nationalism.

The lively and engaging discussion persisted even after the formal conclusion of the seminar, with numerous participants actively exchanging ideas on improving the conditions of left-behind children. The resounding success of this inaugural seminar ignited enthusiasm among participants, many of whom expressed eagerness to take on the role of chairing future sessions. This surge of interest signals the development of a dynamic research culture within our CIFA research community.

Excitement is already building for our next session, which will be chaired by Paul Zhou, a PhD student from the School of Arts and Cultures, focusing on migrant workers. The seminar is scheduled for the 20th of March. More information about this seminar is on its way.

If you wish to learn more about the CIFA Screening and Research Seminar or if you want to get in touch, please get in touch with the CIFA Screening and Research Seminar Committee member Xinyue Hu for more information.