Thank you for having us, Molin Liu. What made you want to become a Filmmaker?
I love watching films, but making films was not my initial will. I started as a photography major at college and enjoyed wandering on streets in lower Manhattan and documenting the special moments, which I still enjoy nowadays. Having the thought of becoming a documentary photographer, I started taking pictures of local artists in my hometown. But gradually, I paid less attention to their work but their personal life.
One time, I decided to videotape, which is when I began embedding narratives into my work and realized that my real passion is moving images with stories - film. Since then, I have tried several genres throughout the first few student films I made. Though I considered all of them immature, among them, The First Sieve is the Truth has the most substantial motivation behind it.
To me, cinema is intrinsically political, no matter its genres. It possesses influential social purposes that can reveal the social crises lurking in the shadows and reflect the hopes and fears of ordinary people.
Eventually, I want to portray magical realism that carries substantial political metaphors or revolutionary symbols while being humorous. Indeed, the interference of politics on film could be drastic, yet utterly separating them could form another extreme. Politics emanates from the masses, and so does the film. But without making the latter a mere puppet, we need to discover the balance between rational reasoning and sincere sentiment - we should make a film politically, not make a film about politics. Though I have a strong passion for social and political cinema, the film is also intrinsically refined and pure in that it does not need to denote anything else but itself. Cinema is an art form that exists for everyone. Thus, there is no definitive explanation of what is a good film. It only varies according to your unique pursuit.
Furthermore, as Bazin indicates, humans have always had an instinctive impulse for immortality since long ago. For instance, the custom of preserving a dead body as a mummy and maintaining our image with painting and photography. In a way, cinema actualized our longing by truthfully saving our appearance and ideology. It keeps our innocence, maturity, optimism, pessimism, complicatedness, sense of righteousness, and covetousness in our unique ways. Cinema softens time.
You made The First Sieve… on a very tight budget… How did you manage that?! What difficulties did you encounter, how did you solve them, what did they teach you in terms of filmmaking?
Making short films can easily exceed the budget due to insufficient planning. While you can set limits in many aspects, such as catering and commuting, one of the most efficient ways is reducing the shooting locations. However, one location does not mean fewer scenes. What we did in The First Sieve is the Truth is finding a block with both an apartment set and all the exterior scenes. It simply allowed us to have a single base camp, thus saving a lot of money.
However, when you stick to the budget, always set a contingency and buy insurance for everyone. You will be surprised by the emergencies that you might encounter, like a car accident. Reducing crew members or finding more affordable crew options can also significantly save money, but be mindful that short-handed or free labor sometimes means lower quality without a careful assessment in advance. The same applies to equipment rental. If you spend a long time preparing and are very confident in your script, find the best crew and equipment.
Managing the budget can be challenging, but the real puzzle is funding the film. There are some ways to fund an indie film. The quickest approach is to use your own savings when you have a brilliant idea and have enough money (Or your family is comfortable investing in this risk.) Another common way is to take advantage of crowdfunding sites like IndieGogo - all you need is a rigorous plan (which you should have regardless of the funding plan) that covers everything from the synopsis to the distribution plan. Or, like me, you can get a job and use the income as your fund. Be a P.A., a freelancing cinematographer, or an editor - if you are devoted enough, you will find your own way.
You navigate between three very different cultures: those of Japan, China, and the U.S.. In today's globalized environment, what major differences do you observe between those three, and how does said "navigation" serve you in your art?
Japan, China, and the U.S. are essentially three completely different countries with distinctive cultures, especially in performing art - the emptiness of the traditional Japanese opera, Noh, the diversity of the traditional Chinese opera, and the melodrama and the twisted characterization of the American play. Experiencing unknown cultures undoubtedly helped me in forming fresh ideas. However, it is the displaced form of departures, arrivals, farewells, exile, nostalgia, homesickness, and traveling itself that shaped my mindset as a filmmaker. It was not just some personal things that drove me to move but also the religious, political and cultural worlds of the places where I have lived.
My attachment to my homeland contains both bitterness and affection, and the moving, in fact, shaped my creative approach to the world. Seeing the world as a foreigner makes the originality of vision. As opposed to most people who have knowledge of a single culture, a foreigner is always aware of at least two cultures. Therefore, by crossing cultural borders, apart from having my own culture, I can see my original country with detachment, making my point of view in my work objective, unique and without any prejudice, which are all especially critical for creating sociological films.
Of course we would like to have your take of what is currently and recurrently referred to as "surveillance society…”
The root of the problem lies not in the surveillance for safety but rather in the more restrictive regime, which has imposed a considerable impact on many industries, including the internet, technology, and certainly entertainment. The film The Eight Hundred, directed by Guan Hu, was shut down only because of the scene in which soldiers defend the Kuomintang (Taiwanese) flag. The film One Second, directed by Zhang Yimou, was also removed from certain screenings due to its depiction of some sensitive parts of the Chinese cultural revolution. Indeed, artistic creation is excessively monitored by the Chinese government in the name of ensuring social stability, and all contents must reveal the so-called positive energy. Therefore, people start self-censorship with reverence and awe. And such a constant self-suspicion quickly inhibits their critical thinking.
Bertold Brecht said: "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." What does this inspire you?
I enjoy learning Brecht's insightful and intricate perspective on dramatic aesthetics. People generally are unaware of how different our reality and drama are. The narrative film, which is intrinsically drama, is not simply about revealing the outer reality but a way to help us shape a more promising future by deconstructing the past and the current phase of the world. Drama can provide criticism and the rationale of action for social development and revolution. Drama, including cinema, possesses influential social purposes that can reveal the social crises lurking in the shadows and reflect the hopes and fears of ordinary people. Inspired by Brecht's dialectical philosophy, I aim to re-create reality in the most truthful and undramatic manner that embeds recessive metaphor, secession, and rebellion.
Who are your favorite filmmakers, and what do you love, or what inspires you, about their cinema?
I enjoy watching Ozu Yasujiro's films because of my affection for Japanese culture, "mono no aware," a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence or transience of thing.
Ozu makes the audience feel deeply about his character by being honest rather than manipulating us by showing exaggerated performances or melodrama, hence Ozu's famous restraint and his ceremonial motionless cinematography style.
If the audiences are enormously moved at the end of his films, it is not because anyone has pushed the right buttons, but because they have seen something that strikes them as truthful. An Autumn Afternoon might be insipid for some audiences, but only audiences who have experienced sophisticated and sometimes unmerciful life can appreciate the hidden value of the film.
Likewise, Taiwanese film director Edward Yang's film, for instance, Yi Yi, does not have miracles or saviors. To me, his greatest accomplishment is recording life's ups and downs with no exaggeration, occasionally accompanied by some humor and satire. During the nearly 3-hour-long duration of watching Yi Yi, I was astounded so many times by Yang's unsentimental vision, almost like watching a news report from an irrelevant observer. Watching Ozu and Yang's films is like discreetly living someone else's entire life, and instead of my work, it is my life being influenced by their films.
For my work, I get inspired by watching Jiang Wen's films. Jiang appears to be a leftish filmmaker when he portrays the outstanding quality of the laboring people. But in the film Devils on the Doorstep, Jiang does not employ the context of the traditional left-wing praise of the working class, but portrays the numbness, slavishness and ignorance among the Chinese people from that era.
From my perspective, Jiang unreservedly and sarcastically raises an enormous historical topic without interpretation, just like James Joyce compresses time into one day in Ulysses. Jiang's films could be offensive. However, It does not indicate Jiang's objection to particular events but his way of deconstructing human nature, society, and history. Jiang often points out the rules and laws which are derived from people living a collective life that covers the human's heterogeneous nature. Jiang opposes a substantially homogenous society. In Jiang's postmodern films, there is no universal moral truth and fixed human goals. Filmmakers usually fall into two categories - money-oriented business people and socially responsible advocates. Fortunately, Jiang found the balance and fell into both categories.
Can you tell our readers a little about your up and coming projects?
Currently, I am working on the post-production of a ten minutes short film, Come Another Day. The film tells a story about a Chinese woman who lives in New York City alone and struggling to pay off her husband's smuggling fee. To me, to examine the topic of illegal immigration is meaningful and impartial, especially from the perspective of an immigrant. Despite their race, residence duration, and identity's legitimacy, most immigrants have experienced heartbreaking conflicts and potentially life-threatening risks from people around them.
People might also ascribe such social withdrawal to their conservative lifestyle. But really, would their home countries seem any less exotic if they went back there again? In this case, I am taking alienation as a thread of the story to relate to the essence of human nature. The woman can be devoted to prostituting herself to reunite with her husband but can also be relieved, ironically, when finding out about her husband's death. Through this film, I try to portray the paradoxical human nature: sacrificing oneself for love is humanity's glory, yet striving for the benefit at the expense of others is merely an embedded human instinct. We need to accept our ugliness.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
Some of the most apparent transformations the epidemic has caused in cinema are the production strategy, the audiences' viewing habits, and the market pattern. While such issues might change over time, the pandemic can undoubtedly trigger unique content.
Here I will only take China as an example. Since 2020, filmmakers have created original works based on the pandemic, an unprecedented new topic. However, what the pandemic can bring to the cinema is not just the pandemic itself, but other recessive social issues it has catalyzed.
For instance, the collapse of people's trust in the politician, the internecine sabotaging of people from the middle and lower classes, the unsound social welfare system, and the management's corruption. Tragedy will indeed nurture more courageous and epochal stories.
Molin LIU is a bilingual independent filmmaker based in L.A., who intermittently lives in China and Japan. Molin’s films focus on discussing political and social events by exploring the current trends of pop culture and the structure of different media forms with the tone of satire and humor.
He directed and wrote a crime short film, The First Sieve is the Truth (2022), which was awarded from multiple film festivals, including Cannes World Film Festival, Tokyo International Short Film Festival, New York International Film Awards, and Los Angeles Film Awards. Another film, Supporting Role (2022), in post-production, is a narrative short based on the consumeristic live-streaming culture. Thanks to his previous experience in photography, Molin uses his sensitive intuition for capturing the tiny moments and transient contexts during his filmmaking process. He curated and held his independent documentary photography exhibition in 2018. He has interned at Warner Bros Television Group and is currently working at Netflix.
ABOUT THE FILM
The First Sieve Is the Truth is my first attempt at making a sociological and political short film. It tells a story about a marginal social fact that could never be exposed to the world through a story between the head of the Bureau of Press and a thief. The script only contains a few pages, but it took me nearly six months to finalize the outline.
The heart of this story involves censorship, which is regarded as an especially sensitive subject in China. The rigid censorship regulation has left the creators baffled and disappointed, causing the Chinese film industry to become less diverse.
I also attempted to show humanity's hypocritical traits with some of the most representative figures in our society.
MARCH 2022 EDITION
ITW: Émilie Saada