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.
Molin Liu is a bilingual independent filmmaker based in L.A., intermittently lives in China and Japan. Molin’s films focus on discussing political and social events by exploring the current trend of pop culture and the structure of different media forms with the tone of satire and humor. He directed and wrote the crime short film, The First Sieve is the Truth (2021), awarded for Indie X Film Festival, Milan Gold Awards, Europe Film Festival U.K. for Best Shorts. Another film, Supporting Role (2022), in post-production, a narrative short based on the consumeristic live-streaming culture. Molin has a sensitive intuition for capturing the tiny moments and transient contexts during his filmmaking process through his previous photography experience. Molin curated and held his independent documentary photography exhibition in 2018. He has interned at Samuel Goldwyn Films and Warner Bros Television Group.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
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.
What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?
By now, many films are hybrid, which means that they borrow elements from multiple genres to construct something that feels new. I enjoy writing about the real-life subject matter and integrating it into a segment of someone's life. It might eventually become a specific genre, or it might not. I started my filmmaking journey by studying fixed structures, but I believe we should concentrate on how not to tell a story when making a realism film. Although the story or the plot might be a figment, the event, the theme, or the core value, must have real traceable references. Sometimes imposing a story on such references could make them unauthentic or cheesy, but sometimes it will work perfectly. No matter the genre, what is essential and fun is building a nuanced moment that can ultimately reflect an era. However, such a film is not a simple replica or simulation of reality. It should reflect the author's philosophical and ethical ideas while achieving the film's entertainment purpose. Taking The First Sieve is the Truth as an example, censorship and human nature are the period marks that give the story more tension. Without them, the film merely tells a story about catching a thief—Vice versa.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Resource richness can easily separate an independent filmmaker from a studio-backed filmmaker. Filmmaking is not a one-man's job. Even writing the outline of a script, which theoretically could be accomplished alone, usually requires different opinions and criticisms from others. After the writing finishes, it will take lots of people's effort to move from script to screen. So you'd better have some resources. Good producers who know how to spend the budget wisely and schedule efficiently will allow a smooth and organized shooting experience, which is not often seen in a smaller student production. Talented cinematographers will not only save you time for each shot's setup, which usually takes very long, but they will also provide you with surprising thoughts and ideas to enhance the story during the shoot. The script is indeed the most essential and fundamental element in filmmaking. But I have seen many student films with incredible scripts that turned out to be cheap because of poor execution, including mine. Sometimes there is nothing we can do but compromise because of the lack of resources, including money. However, independent filmmaking means that you will have to generate the most innovative and unique story. After all, that is usually all you can do when you have less money.
How challenging is it to fund indie films?
There are so many 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 the crowdfunding sites like IndieGogo - all you need is an impeccable and 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 production assistant, a freelancing cinematographer, or an editor - if you are devoted enough, you will find your own way.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
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 post-modern 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.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on (What was the inspiration behind your latest film project)?
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, it is meaningful and impartial to examine the topic of illegal immigration, 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 knowing about his 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.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film?
The First Sieve is the Truth is technically my personal project, not my student thesis project. Therefore, the only person that I first know is my producer, Pei Fei, who was my college friend and managed to establish and organize the entire crew of about 25 people. All of them are very talented people, and I am very honored to work with a few of them on different projects afterward.
What is the distribution plan of the film and did the film receive any screenings or was it featured in festivals?
Until now, The First Sieve is the Truth has received numerous awards from festivals worldwide, such as Los Angeles Film Awards, New York International Film Awards, Toronto Film Magazine, and many more. The screening took place at different film festivals, like Around International Film Festival Berlin and Trinity Film Festival. The distribution process is still in progress, in which I am submitting them to various online screening platforms, such as IndieFlix and ShortsTv. The short films' distribution process is usually more challenging than feature films as their audiences are limited. Nevertheless, in any case, making a short film is a great asset and a necessary stepping stone before creating features.
Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your work have on the world?
To me, cinema is intrinsically political, no matter its representations. 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 themselves 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.