Interview with director Hai Rihan

SHORT BIO OF THE DIRECTOR: Hai Rihan is an award winning LA based Mongolian (Chinese minority) director.
Film to her, is more than just entertainment. It is a comprehensive art form that is capable of carrying social responsibilities and promoting positive social changes. Her works always have a focus on the unvoiced, including women, the trans-gendered, the disabled, the elder and the young, devoting to telling realistic stories with great passion and unique cultural background.
As an Asian female filmmaker based in LA, she hopes to continue bringing in deep and profound voices to the noisy world we live in.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I was in my accounting class. This is back when I was a finance major as freshman. The professor said, in answer to what to choose as one’s major, “do not choose what you want to do for the next 3 or 4 years, think about the next 30 and 40 years, what would you still want to do by then.” It stuck with me for days, shortly after which, I submitted my change of major application form. I have always had many thoughts in my mind but was never expressive about them. In stead of telling out loud to people what was in my head, storytelling through film seemed to be a perfect artistic way for me, an introvert, to express myself and say what I have to say to the world.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No. There are many successful filmmakers who did not go to a film institute. Anyone with a great passion for storytelling can be a filmmaker and one day, succeed.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Compared to getting started, I think it is harder to keep going. Many people say a start is half way to success. But sometimes, getting started can be on the spur of the moment which can be accomplished in a quick moment, while keeping going, let’s say it is the other 50%, can only be achieved after long, tedious and lonely journeys that requires extreme passion and persistence. In a simple example, almost all of us had story ideas and
even thought of titles for them and entered the titles in Final Draft, but how many of us kept going and how many of the ideas actually never saw its end?

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

A Lesson I learned while making Kneeling Sheep was when I was looking for our producer. I learned it the hard way that filmmaking is not just an art, but a business as well that involves money, politics and even crime. Having been an international student in the U.S., Kneeling Sheep was my first time to make a film of mine in China. Knowing barely no one in the Chinese industry, crewing my team became my first challenge. Of course, I was cheated. The producer I found who appeared to be kind, successful and professional with so much promises made, turned out to be a fraudster lives off of defrauding independent directors and small production companies. I was so close to be ripped off by him, but luckily saw through him a week before shooting. Even though we successfully protected our money, it was still a crazy mass to deal with a week before shooting. But filmmaking is all about problem solving, on or off set. This experience taught me how to face the many other crises happened during the production. It really takes more than just the artistic talent to handle this comprehensive business/art.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Other than the crewing difficulties, the film, Kneeling Sheep, had its own challenges. Due to its sensitive subject, we had to do most of our shootings secretly and finish as soon as possible in case of being discovered or reported. The content of our film was kept to the insiders only. Our police uniforms were also purchased through black markets and handmade afterwards. Even now, there are still crew members and some others who contributed to the making of this film prefer to remain anonymity in the credit, for security concerns. I deeply appreciate their contributions and respect their choices. It is exactly why we had to make this film. Unjust must be heard for justice to come.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

The film itself was originally a much more complicated story that dug deeply into corruption, abuse of power and regular people’s struggles. In order to meet my school’s thesis requirements, it had to be shorten down to 15 min, causing a lot of plots being cut. I really wish to have the opportunity to tell the story more in depth if possible.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

As mentioned above, I was almost defrauded forming the crew. After which, I started to look for crew members based on our mutual artistic beliefs and someone who does not make empty promises. Because that we believe in the same thing, giving voice to the unvoiced, it was not hard for us to concentrate all our energies to the same direction, rather than being distracted by money or fame. It was all for the making of this film. It is a necessary story that we had to tell, as filmmakers. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” We had to let it heard. It was that simple.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I believe a filmmaker’s role is to say what she/he has to say, and it is the distributor’s job to worry about what the audiences want. But it does not mean that filmmakers and the audiences are disconnected. What the filmmaker has to say definitely speaks to many audiences, because it is her/his genuine thoughts. Nothing is more sincere and connectable than honesty. Worrying about different audiences’ preferences would lead to insincere story, losing its audiences.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

As a newly graduated film student with no distributing resources or connections, and moreover, an ASIAN FEMALE filmmaker, film festivals have become my sole source of promoting the film. They are the essential amplifier of my limited voice. Through film festivals, Kneeling Sheep hopes to meet as many audiences and fellow filmmakers as possible to make our voices being heard.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe one can only be original and fresh after understanding what the classic and safe is. Knowing the box’s boundaries first is necessary before thinking outside the box, but being original and fresh is my ultimate goal with a sincere respect for the classic.